Commenters online found it “disturbing” and dubious that several local US news channels ran stories praising Amazon… that were written by the company’s own staffers.
At least 11 local TV stations have run pro-Amazon news segments which closely follow scripts written and supplied by the retail giant’s PR people, Courier reported.
A montage of the anchors reading out nearly identically-structured stories has been circling on social media. According to Courier, the news package was produced by Amazon spokesperson Todd Walker, and only one station – WTVG, an ABC affiliate in Toledo, Ohio – acknowledged that Walker was an Amazon employee, not a news reporter.
— COURIER (@CourierNewsroom) May 26, 2020
The segments focused on how Jeff Bezos’ company is “keeping its employees safe and healthy” during the Covid-19 pandemic, and has spent $800 million on “increased wages and overtime pay.”
Oklahoma City’s KOCO 5 anchor Zach Rael previously revealed that Amazon’s PR team emailed him footage from the company’s facilities with “a pre-edited news story and script to run in our shows.” The journalist said that he declined the offer, suggesting that Amazon should allow news crew to visit its buildings “with our own cameras” instead.
Just got an email from Amazon’s PR team with a pre-edited news story and script to run in our shows. They are selling this as giving our viewers an “inside look” at the company’s response to COVID-19.
Let us go inside a fulfillment centers with our own cameras… pic.twitter.com/7mDk2xmf4O
— Zach Rael (@KOCOZach) May 24, 2020
Amazon’s spokesperson later confirmed to Mediaite that the footage was created to share “an inside look” into the company’s safety measures and was made for reporters who “for a variety of reasons” were unable to visit Amazon’s sites in person.
“This is depressing. It’s just the TV version of native advertising, except without the ‘sponsored content’ label,” one person tweeted.
Another said that it would be “an insane breach of journalistic standards” if the news stations failed to inform the viewers that the scripts came directly from Amazon.
Some pointed out that the stations airing the Amazon story are not affiliates of a single company, but rather owned by different companies.
Owners of these local stations:
E. W. Scripps Company
Thomas and DiBartolomeo Families
This isn’t one owner running scripts through it’s affiliates.
— Ventura 2020 (@AYATOMM_COM) May 26, 2020
“This feels like an intro to a really good dystopian film,” a YouTube commenter said.
According to media reports, Amazon sent out pre-edited scripts to news stations ahead of its shareholder meeting. The e-commerce giant has faced backlash and scrutiny after employees went on strike in the US and made complaints demanding greater workplace protection and better pay during the Covid-19 crisis.
Last month, a court in France ruled that the company failed to ensure the proper safety of its warehouse workers, and ordered Amazon’s operations in the country be limited to delivering only essential products such as food and medicine until it improves its workplace environment.
Amazon has denied mistreating its workers and insists that it has beefed up disease control measures to ensure safety and wellbeing.
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