NAB's Sander Praises TV's First Responders

National Association of Broadcasters chairman Jack Sander planned to use his Sept. 11 speech to the Media Institute in Washington, D.C., to remind his audience of the importance of broadcasting during the 9/11 attacks and the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the second anniversary of which just passed in late August.

According to a prepared text of the speech, Sander planned to tell his audience that on Sept. 11, 2001, "even those watching cable news were seeing video provided by local affiliate feeds," describing TV stations as "among the first responders in time of crisis."

"As we saw on 9/11, broadcasters and journalists race to cove the dangerous situations most people would run away from," he continued.

Sander, who is a senior adviser to Belo Broadcasting, pointed out in the speech that during Hurricane Katrina, Belo's WWL was the only TV station in New Orleans to remain on the air uninterrupted, staffed by employees who did not know whether they would have homes to return to.

Sander also praised broadcasters for election coverage and warned of the "changing definitions of indecency and violence that are keeping broadcasters alert over potential threats to the First Amendment." He praised Media Institute president Patrick Maines for being a "strong ally in our fight to stave off attempts to restrict free speech."

Sander was in town in part to lobby, along with numerous other broadcast executives, on the issue of the so-called white spaces between TV channels that computer companies want the Federal Communications Commission to open up to use by unlicensed spectrum-sensing devices. Broadcasters said the devices could interfere with their beautiful new digital-TV signals and jeopardize the DTV transition, buoyed by the FCC's own studies that show potential interference problems.

Sander cited that issue as one of the key ones facing broadcasters, using the "interference zones" name broadcasters prefer over the "white spaces" term that suggests that there is room for the devices.

NAB president David Rehr advised broadcasters at the association's April convention that part of lobbying for issues was to frame them in more broadcaster-friendly language.

Sander said broadcasters have a big job ahead in educating the public about the DTV switch, but he suggested that the cable industry needed some educating about what its position should be on the issue of "viewability" (cable calls it "dual carriage").

"I take offense at the inconsistent comments of the cable industry," he planned to say. "On the one hand, they tell the FCC they lack the capacity to carry all broadcast channels. Our first responsibility should be to the consumer and ensuring that they enjoy the full benefits offered by digital technology."

The FCC has proposed requiring cable operators to carry broadcasters in both analog and digital after the switch to all-digital broadcasting in February 2009, either by converting the signal at the headend and delivering two signals, a digital and an analog, or delivering a digital signal but supplying analog customers with a set-top converter.

Even as Sander was preparing to speak, the FCC was scheduled to vote on that viewability issue, although at press time the commission’s meeting had still not begun with no word on when, or if, it would get started. FCC start times have been honored more in the breach than the observance of late.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.