NAB’s Smith: Local TV Key To Freedom

“Today’s media is not monolithic,” NAB CEO Gordon Smith says, and “in a time when … media is becoming incredibly polarized and partisan, local news has become even more valuable to our democratic dialogue.”

NAB President Gordon Smith touted the importance of broadcasters’ “vital role” in American society as providing knowledge that is “the most absolute and necessary ingredient to public discourse.” After quoting James Madison, Smith said that’s why today — nearly 250 years later — “the right to speak freely without fear of incrimination, the right of the press to challenge the government and root out corruption, remains one of the most important rights our founders enshrined in the Constitution.”

He said that keeping the keystone of freedom securely in place — the freedom of speech and of the press — is our highest calling.” And, he added, “broadcasters have been, and continue to be, proud stewards of these ideals in the modern media age.”

Smith spoke to the Media Institute in Washington on Tuesday, offering an endorsement of over-the-air broadcasting and spelling out many of the issues the industry is grappling with.

Following last week’s election, he said, “There has been a great deal of focus on the media’s role during and following the election. For broadcasters in particular, self-evaluation is nothing new; as part of their mission, broadcasters constantly reflect upon how they do their jobs and seek ways to better serve the public. This includes questions about the amount and type of information explored to fact-checking and evaluating what issues really matter to the American people. This is happening now, as it happens after every election.

“In reflecting on our role in American discourse, it is also critical to look at the ways various elements of the ‘media’ serve our electorate. First, it is critical to recognize that today’s media is not monolithic. It is far more complex. Print newspapers are struggling mightily to survive in an online world. And social media is perceived by many as a ‘Wild West’ of misinformation, even the source of fake news, where sorting fact from fiction has become increasingly more challenging.

“I am reminded of what my former Senate colleague, Chuck Schumer from New York, once said about broadcasters. He said that in a time when cable news media is becoming incredibly polarized and partisan, local news has become even more valuable to our democratic dialogue.


“When Americans want ‘just the facts,’ they know they can turn to their local stations to get the news straight, without the shouting, finger-pointing and drama. When they want to find out what’s going on in their community — like what’s happening in their schools, if their favorite sports team is winning or what the weather will be — they tune into their local stations.”

After noting that communities’ “deep reliance on local broadcasters compels us to keep innovating,” Smith went on to praise the ubiquity of free, over-the-air broadcasting and then outlined some of the issues the industry will face along with a new administration and Congress.

Among them: the adoption of the ATSC 3.0 next-gen television transmission standard. “This is the world’s first broadcast standard that offers the advantages of broadcast and broadband. Next Gen TV promises to deliver those sharp ultra HD images that everyone loves, plus interactive features, customizable content and multichannel immersive sound,” he said. “Viewers can look forward to more choices, more channels and more flexibility – all for free. Mobile devices and TV sets equipped with Next Gen receivers will make TV available virtually anywhere.

“The only thing that stands between viewers and this new enhanced free service is government action. Unlike other competitive services, local stations can only begin to innovate after receiving Federal Communications Commission approval.”

He also addressed the FCC’s ownership rules that NAB is fighting in court. “[O]utdated broadcast ownership rules still remain intact — a regulatory holdover from 1975 that prevents common ownership of a printed daily newspaper and even a single broadcast station in the same local market. These rules are longer necessary, and in today’s media landscape are unfair and hurt competition.”

Smith said that broadcasters are eagerly awaiting the final stages of the commission’s spectrum incentive auction. “We hope for a successful conclusion of the auction. We believe that policymakers will ensure there is sufficient time and funds available to allow broadcasters to complete their moves. We must ensure that no viewer is left in the dark because a station is forced off the air or left to foot the bill for expenses that Congress did not intend and stations cannot afford.”

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