Why do TV news anchors appear in political ads?


GREEN BAY – Most political campaign ads are quick and strongly worded. They sometimes include faces viewers recognize.

Mary Burke’s newest campaign ad in the race for governor includes clips from newscasts seen across Wisconsin in July. The ad shows short segments of news anchors reading stories about businesses closing or cutting jobs.

Burke is the Democrat nominee for governor. She is running against incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in November.

Republicans also used news clips in an advertisement this year.

While some question if that means a news organization is endorsing a candidate, in most cases it does not. Campaigns and political organizations argue using news clips is legal under copyright law.

In March, the Republican Governor’s Association used part of FOX 11 broadcast in a commercial. FOX 11 did not air the ad, but other Green Bay stations did.

Stations can choose not to air advertisements from third-party groups, like political action committees. Jay Zollar, the general manager of WLUK-TV, emphasizes if a FOX 11 personality is in an ad, the station is not endorsing a candidate.

“In the past, we have not been consulted and asked if in fact they can use our images on their air,” said Zollar. “If they would ask, we would say no.”

Mark Graul of Green Bay has worked on campaigns for several high-profile Republicans, like former President George W. Bush and former U.S. Rep. Mark Green. Graul explained why TV personalities are used in political ads.

“Trying again to get somebody else to authenticate your version of the story by using a third-party source,” said Graul. “So it’s not me saying it, it’s the news guy saying this so that must be the truth. So you should believe them, even if you don’t believe what I’m saying, you should believe them.”

FOX 11 researched U.S. copyright law to get the facts. Television stations have ownership rights of their content and they can limit how others use it.

However, there is an exception to the law, known as the fair use exception. This is how candidates and political groups defend their use of TV clips. They argue their ads aren’t making a profit and are clearly labeled as campaign ads.

While stations can deny third-party ads, they have to air ads from legal political candidates.

“The position that we take is that we cannot censor or deny legally qualified candidates access to our air,” said Zollar. “So if a legal candidate decides to use an image that way, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

After TV personalities appear in campaign ads, they sometimes turn to social media to explain they aren’t endorsing a candidate. That’s what Milwaukee news anchor Ted Perry did last week.

Perry wrote on Twitter, “I’m told I’m in a new political ad. Just so we’re clear: campaigns are allowed to take clips of shows w/o our say. We/I don’t endorse anyone.”

A spokesperson for Burke explained why their campaign uses personalities like Perry.

“We’re committed to being factual and honest with the voters – and journalists/reporters doing their job, reporting on the news of the day, is one way to ensure voters know you’re being accurate,” said Joe Zepecki, in an e-mail.

After an event in Green Bay Thursday, Gov. Walker said he is indifferent on the issue.

“I don’t know if I have an opinion one way or another in terms of using anchors,” said Walker.

Graul said using journalists adds credibility to political commercials.

“They’re trying to give a greater level of authenticity to their advertising because there’s a lot of skepticism to political ads,” he said.

He said Walker and Burke could each create up to a dozen more ads before November, so there’s a chance viewers will see news anchors in ads again.

A spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters said some political candidates have challenged how their opponents use the fair use exception.

However, legal matters often are not resolved before a campaign ends. And when judges have made decisions, they have come to a variety of conclusions.

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