Skip to main content

Washington Watch

In Rehr Form

NAB preps campaign; stations bleep PBS doc; FAIR slams NewsHour

National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr said last week that the association's top priority in 2007 will be a massive public-information campaign on the digital transition. The National Telecommunications & Information Association has called on the industry for a lot of marketing help since it was given only $5 million by Congress for a campaign to let people know about the government-subsidized digital-to-analog converter boxes.

The converter boxes will be needed for analog over-the-air sets to unscramble digital signals starting Feb. 18, 2009. House and Senate staffers were in agreement last week that the date would probably not be moved, unlike previous DTV deadlines.As many as 70 million sets could become expensive plant stands without the converters. Rehr said NAB will reach out to third parties but he doesn't expect The Ad Council to be part of the effort.

At an Association for Maximum Service Television conference, Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro said he wishes the industry would put as much effort into the transition-education campaign as it has on its parental-control campaign on indecency.

Ears on the Swears

PBS' Eyes on the Prize, which began re-airing on PBS Oct. 2, has a single un-bleeped, cuss word in an Oct. 16 episode. The swearing is by a civil-rights activist, who quickly apologizes: “It's not just the sheriff of this county or the mayor or the police commissioner or George Wallace. This problem goes to the very bottom of the United States. And you know, I said it to them and I will say it again. If we can't sit at the table, let's knock the fucking legs off, excuse me.”

According to Daphne B. Noyes, senior publicist at producing station WGBH Boston, some two dozen stations so far have announced their intention to bleep the word out of concern for local-market sensibilities and for the FCC's profanity crackdown. The series airs from 9 to 11 p.m. on three successive Monday nights.

Noncom stations are unlikely to get in trouble for on-air swearing in the near term. While the FCC has not declared open season on cussing, it is currently rethinking its March profanity rulings and is unlikely to take action until the court case challenging those rulings is resolved, which will not likely happen until February at the earliest.

PBS Too Conservative?

FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) is the name of the media-bias watchdog group taking aim at the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, but folks at the venerable noncom news program don't see much fair in the charges leveled against it last week.

FAIR issued a report that concluded with the damning assertion that, as study co-author Steve Randall put it, “the NewsHour has utterly failed the public it exists to serve.”

The problem, said FAIR, is that the choice of news subjects is neither balanced nor diverse. FAIR says a six-month review of the faces featured on the newscast showed Republicans outnumber Democrats and, in Iraq War coverage, “stay the course” talking heads outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources more than 5 to 1.

The study is off base, says NewsHour spokeswoman Anne Bell, pointing out that the group looked at all the people shown, including newsmaker segments. She says the show strives to provide political balance. “In a Republican administration, newsmakers tend to be Republican.”

The study says the show featured George W. Bush more than 100 times. She says the show has interviewed him only once: “All those others must be from the news summary. And, yes, he is a Republican white male, and as a newsmaker, he will be on the program.”

Marti Hearty

The Bush administration continues to find itself in the news over paying journalists to promote its policies.

The latest flap resulted in the resignation of Miami Herald Publisher Jesús Díaz Jr. in the wake of revelations that some reporters for co-owned Spanish-language paper El Nuevo Herald had been paid by the Bush administration for commentary on Radio and TV Marti, the U.S. broadcast services to Cuba.

Before leaving, Diaz un-fired three staffers, saying the paper's policy on the payments was unclear. The paper's execs have now clarified the policy, telling staffers they need written pre-approval for any outside work. They also said reporters should not appear on Radio or TV Marti. The U.S. government is on one side, said the paper's top management, and the Miami Herald is on the other. The paper should not be using its expertise to further the government's mission, they said.