Smith: Ready To Make Broadcasting's Case

New NAB president talks about indecency regulation, his relationships with the FCC and Congress at Radio Show in Philadelphia

Incoming National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith talked to reporters at the Radio Show in Philadelphia Wednesday about indecency regulation, his relationships with the FCC, Congress, and more.

Smith, the former Republican senator from Oregon, voted back in 2004 to boost indecency fines against broadcasters tenfold. Asked if he thought there was an indecency problem, Smith said he was representing a different constituency, but also said most broadcasters neither favor nor promote indecency. That is according to a recording of the briefing supplied by NAB.

"I was joined by 99 other senators [in the indecency vote]. When you wear the hat of an elected representative, you have a responsibility to reflect those local community standards," he said. "My job now is to help broadcasters-who do not favor indecency; who do not promote indecency-to deal with the legal ramifications of local community standards. [My vote] was a reflection of the sentiments of the people I represented. I now represent the National Association of Broadcasters, and I will help them with that issue because they don't want to be tagged as promoting indecency. That is not what they are in business for."

He said broadcasters were in the business of providing high quality entertainment, accurate information and news, but that "sometimes crazy things will happen out there. I am going to do what I can to help them get a message out that they respect those standards, too."

In response to a question about the FCC's pursuit of fleeting profanities, Smith said he agreed that stations should not be penalized for the outbursts of football coaches and race
car drivers. "They [broadcasters] are not motivated to be putting that on the air."

"I will always tell you the truth as I see it," he told reporters, "and if I don't know something, I will find it out."

The truth, as he saw it, included that broadcasting is a "mature industry in an age that is quickly changing." He called NAB one of the top ten associations. And though he said he had heard "from a few sources" that the group was "in retreat and down on their heels," he maintained that broadcasting was "a wonderful industry that was essential to the quality of life of the American people."

Smith knows a little something about trade associations. "I grew up in a trade association family," he pointed out. His father once headed the National Canners Association (his family owns a frozen vegetable processing company).

Smith said broadcasters have to make their case "again" to policymakers, "both legislative and regulatory." That meant his job was to emphasize the "preeminent value of public airwaves," adding "that gets lost as everyone clamors for a piece of the communications pie."

He said his primary objective is twofold: to be broadcasters' advocate to policymakers on the Hill and the administration, and to help broadcasters use emerging technologies to be as dynamic and profitable as possible.

Responding to a question about whether communications attorney Jonathan Blake, a colleague of Smith's at law firm Covington & Burling, played any role in his getting the NAB post, Smith said not as far as he knew.

"Jonathan Blake e-mailed me as surprised as anyone when this was announced," he said. But Smith also said he had worked with Blake on a number of issues, including communications.

Smith said that he was simply called by the Russell Reynolds Associates for an interview for the NAB job. He said he agreed because he valued the association, had worked on its issues, and knew former president Eddie Fritts and "thought highly of him." He made no reference to the man he is replacing, David Rehr, who exited last spring.

Smith said he had 14 months to go in the two-year moratorium on lobbying former congressional colleagues (part of lobbying reform legislation). "I am going to observe the law," he said, "but it is also the law that they can ask me to come up [and testify]." He also said that he had congressional colleagues calling regularly to ask his opinion. "I will observe the letter of the law," he reiterated.

Smith said he can answer questions but will not initiate contact, though he pointed out there is no similar ban on talking to the FCC. Smith said he has worked with Commissioner Michael Copps, and has "played some phone tag" with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "I've had them all in my office at one time or another," he said.

Some NAB members wanted a broadcaster in the post. Smith said he respected their feelings but was "ready to prove them wrong." He said he would not pretend to know every nuance of broadcasting and communications law, but said he knew a great deal of it.

NAB Joint Board Chairman Steve Newberry, who sat in on the briefing, said that Smith and the association would be proactive on the new tech front, rather than reactive.

"We've got the right guy for the position," Newberry said, adding that there is a preliminary agreement in place for a three-year contract for Smith.