Good, bad and ugly
NAB salutes public service, but the blind just don't see it
By Harry A. Jessell, Editor in Chief -- Broadcasting & Cable, 6/17/2001 8:00:00 PM
A few years back, the NAB had a great idea. It would host a conference and black-tie dinner to showcase some of the good deeds that broadcasters routinely do. The day of events would encourage more good deeds and, not incidentally, answer critics who say stations shirk their public-interest obligation and ought to be more heavily regulated.
While most of this magazine's staff flew to Chicago for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention last week, I went to Washington last Monday for the third annual Service to America Summit at the Ronald Reagan Building, a grand federal edifice that stands as an ironic tribute to the president of small government. If nothing else, it was a chance to hang with Muhammad Ali, who was to receive the top prize at the dinner. So with a bow to Sergio Leone, here is my report on the good, the bad and the ugly of the summit.
The good: There was plenty of it. At the dinner, the NAB recognized eight TV and radio stations for community service above and beyond the call of business. It also presented a handsome trophy to the broadcasters and law- enforcement agencies of Dallas, which are working together on the Amber Plan, which is named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was abducted and killed in 1996. The Plan is a system for quickly alerting the city whenever a child is abducted. It is credited with recovering seven children since its inception five years ago.
The NAB also inaugurated an award for family broadcasters committed to public service. The Hubbard Award is named for the pioneering broadcasting family of St. Paul/Minneapolis. The first recipient: patriarch Stanley S. Hubbard.
Take the time to read about the other winners in the program, which is inserted in this magazine (B&C is among the sponsors on the event).
At the summit luncheon, the NAB Education Foundation presented diplomas to the first graduates of its Broadcast Leadership Training Program, which is aimed at giving minorities and women—experienced broadcasters—the know-how for acquiring stations. The program was created in response to then FCC Chairman Bill Kennard's call in 1998 for the industry's "best ideas" for increasing minority broadcast ownership.
Muhammad Ali really has nothing to do with broadcasting, except that TV helped make him, if you believe the clips, the most famous man in the world. But despite severe Parkinson's disease, Ali has lent his name and image in recent years to many charitable causes and the fight against intolerance and racism. He belongs in the company of the past Leadership Award winners, Nancy Reagan and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
The bad: Let's start with Bruce Jenner.
He was as out of place as emcee of the summit dinner as a pole vaulter in a china shop. I'd advise him to stick to the high school sports banquet circuit. And, Bruce, that San Francisco FM is known as K-Fog, not K-frog.
Never missing a chance to stroke a politician, the NAB also dragged several congressmen and senators up on stage to say a few kind words about the winners. Too much. Too much.
And the absence of CBS, Fox and NBC also hurt. It's tough to celebrate broadcasting's best side, while ignoring the owners of scores of stations in the nation's largest markets.
The ugly: Early guests to the summit had to run a red-carpeted gauntlet of about two dozen blind persons, members of the American Council of the Blind. They were there to protest NAB's court challenge of the FCC's newly minted video-description rules, which require affiliates of the Big Four networks to air video descriptions four hours a week via their SAP channels.
The video descriptions are actually audio descriptions of what's happening during program, a great enhancement for vision-impaired viewers.
Fortunately for the NAB party planners, the cops chased off the protesters, seeing-eye dogs and all, after an hour or so. It seems they didn't have the necessary permit to assemble outside a federal building.
But I hope every broadcaster entering the building got the message. I've argued in this space before that the NAB should embrace video description, not oppose it. It would be an important new service to America. Broadcasters just need to loosen their grip on that fistful of dollars.
Jessell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-337-6964.
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