In a stirring speech delivered Tuesday (11/15) at a Washington, D.C. luncheon sponsored by The Media Institute, NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith reiterated that Freedom of Speech and the media’s power to provide “popular information” will continue unabated, with the broadcasters’ association full focus.
Smith also took the opportunity to urge the FCC to move quickly to “unleash the next generation of free broadcast television service to be benefit of viewers.”
Smith opened his speech by referencing one of America’s founding fathers, James Madison, by quoting him.
“He said: ‘A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.'”
According to Smith, Madison must have known then what we know now — “knowledge is power and that the media, when functioning properly, helps spread that power among the people.”
Madison described this as “popular information,” and this concept dovetailed into Smith’s point that the media has a responsibility to the American people in which the right to speak freely remains an important right of broadcasters and media.
Given the election of President-Elect Donald Trump, the freedom of the press has come under heightened concern by some.
“As we digest the election results and the will of the people, Madison’s words ring true now more than ever,” Smith said. “Broadcasters recognize their core duty to provide the public with the ‘popular information’ required to help American citizens be their own governors.”
Acknowledging that “there has been a great deal of focus on the media’s role during and following the election,” Smith added, “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.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Meanwhile, Smith said ATSC 3.0 — the new broadcast standard that “offers the sharp advantages of broadcast and broadband” — is set to be a powerful enhancement for viewers.
The only thing that stands between viewers and ATSC 3.0? The FCC.
“Unlike other competitive services, local stations can only begin to innovate after receiving Federal Communications Commission approval,” Smith said, in a nod to pending leadership changes at the Commission.
He also took a swipe at the Commission for upholding most of its 41-year-old media cross-ownership rules, which prohibit a newspaper from merging with a broadcast media entity in the same market.
“Isn’t it ironic that the FCC will allow mega-mergers in the pay-TV industry, but continues to hold local stations hostage under decades-old, outdated rules?” he asked attendees of the Communications Forum luncheon.
In closing his remarks, Smith recalled a visit to Montevideo, Uruguay and shared how this visit to an ancient stone gateway still stands. His visit instilled in him the value of freedom, a value that he holds for all U.S. media today.
“The ancient stone gateway to that city still stands after some 400 years,” he said. “It does so because of the keystone at the top of the structure that holds it all in place. Take the keystone out and it all comes tumbling down. In a similar way, this is the role of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of speech and press contained in it. Keeping the keystone of freedom securely in place – the freedom of speech and of the press – is our highest calling.”
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