Int. Herald Tribune
And That's the way it isn't

CBS News Digitally Alters Images in Reports.

Paris, Thursday, January 13, 2000


NEW YORK - Americans watching the "CBS Evening News" broadcast live from Times Square in New York on New Year's Eve saw a billboard advertising CBS News out in the square behind the anchor, Dan Rather. They might have looked at the well-placed billboard and wondered how it was that CBS was able to place its ad so fortuitously.

The truth is, the billboard and the advertisement for CBS did not exist. The image was digitally imported into the live CBS broadcast, obliterating an existing, real billboard - an advertisement for CBS's rival, NBC, underneath the New Year's ball - by electronic insertion technology.

Inserting digital images has become increasingly common in sports and entertainment programming, usually to insert advertising and corporate logos, but has generally been considered out of line in the world of news shows, a type of programming in which the assumption of reality is considered sacrosanct and in which not informing viewers is considered a breach of journalistic guidelines. CBS contends such practices do not cross ethical boundaries.

["It's flat-out dishonest," Walter Cronkite, the anchorman of the "CBS Evening News" from 1961 to 1981 and the doyen of American television journalists, told the International Herald Tribune on Wednesday. He added, "CBS and the rest of the broadcasters must pledge to refrain from the use of the technique in any manner."

["I hope that CBS will acknowledge that it's a terrible mistake," Mr. Cronkite added. "To my mind the use of such technology by a news organization cannot be condoned." He added that the public already was "terribly suspicious" of the broadcast and print media, and that "tampering with actuality as it is broadcast" would deepen the suspicion.]

CBS News is using the technology as part of a broad agreement the network signed last year with a technology company, Princeton Video Image Inc., to provide branding services for a variety of CBS programs. The technology has been used regularly on "The Early Show" and the news magazine "48 Hours" and was used on the "Evening News" on Dec. 30 and 31, according to CBS news executives.

In New York, news show logos that appear real are being inserted on the sides of structures like the General Motors building, on the back of a horse-drawn carriage in Central Park, in the fountain outside the Plaza Hotel and, on Tuesday's "Early Show" broadcast, in the center of the Wollman skating rink in Central Park. In some instances, the logo clearly resembles a large billboard advertising CBS News.

The use of the technology is part of a multiyear deal that CBS has signed with Princeton Video Image to provide branding services for a variety of CBS programs. "The Early Show" has been the most ardent user of the technology and has been using it almost every day since the show's debut on Nov. 1, at times making it appear that a large promotional billboard several stories high is attached to the General Motors building, where the show is aired.

"We were looking for some way to brand the neighborhood with the CBS logo," said Steve Friedman, the executive producer of "The Early Show." "It's a great way to do things without ruining the neighborhood. Every day we have a different way of using it, whether it's logos or outlines. And we haven't even scratched the surface of its uses yet."

Mr. Friedman said that the practice did not press the boundaries of ethical guidelines for the CBS News division.

"It does not distort the content of the news," he said, and compared the use of the technology to earlier visual innovations. "I remember the hue and cry when people started to use graphics on news."




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