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Broadcasters Told to Take Pride in Their Service Role, and to Do More.

Alfred North Whitehead once observed that "a great society is one in which men of business think greatly of their function." So it is, I believe, with great industries. And no industry has mirrored that proposition better for much of this century than American broadcasting.

The greatness of this industry derives from two kinds of thinking. The first is that the broadcaster thinks greatly about broadcasting--a dynamic enterprise which, if well operated, earns public approval as well as profits. The second is that the broadcaster thinks greatly about the community he or she serves--a definable market which, if properly cared for, ennobles itself by making progress commensurate with its potential.

In the case of the latter, the broadcaster has a running start. Using the power of his license for public service and the public good has been a hallmark of the broadcaster almost from the beginning. One might say that it's been around long enough for people on both ends of the airwaves to take it pretty much for granted.

In a deeper sense, though, the broadcaster is a citizen first. It is in his capacity for civic responsibility--often outside the airwaves--that he can wield a different influence, or make common cause with his fellow citizens in other endeavors. Many broadcasters help their communities through voluntary action as a part of local service, civic, charitable and religious organizations.

Enlightened self-interest is not a new concept. Smart business people have always recognized that putting something back into the marketplace they take something out of is an investment in its long-term well-being . . . and in their own as well. To use an old phrase, it's a case of doing well by doing good.

We in this industry ask much of the nation that grants us both the citizen franchise and the business license. As individual broadcasters, we seek public as well as private goals in our local communities. We have learned to expect what we want--and to want what we expect.

On Examining Contributions

Yet, the time has come again to examine our own contributions to these desirable ends. Not just in quantity, but in quality. Not merely because it's right, but because it's responsible. Not only to make a better living for broadcasters, but to make our communities better places to live. We must think greatly about both our businesses and our communities.

This past your we witnessed dramatic changes with deregulation and rapid technological breakthroughs. New vistas of investment have emerged, and more are on the horizon. Relaxation of the seven-station rule bodes exciting new opportunities for expansion of our groups without undue concentration.

News surrounding our industry today is laced with an ever-broadening lexicon, which includes friendly and hostile takeovers, mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, invaders, white-knights, greenmailers, and the list goes on.

Announcements of mergers of publicly held station groups and networks have clearly grabbed the center stage of speculation. Group-owned stations offer economies of scale that enable them to combine their resources not just to improve the bottom line but also to provide the public with enhanced services like new and different programming choices, a more in-depth fare of public affairs programs, expanded news operations and more-diverse involvement in their respective communities. These announced friendly mergers, in our opinion, reflect a strengthening of this great, free over-the-air system of broadcasting that serves our nation better than any country on earth.

Wall Street has discovered broadcasting, and this is good. The stations you have created are of measurable value. They should be recognized for their worth. Yet, I have a broader concern, and I am not persuaded that it is being addressed in this financial equation.

NAB believes in a public-service standard and a delicate balance that recognizes our dependence on and commitment to the communities we are licensed to serve.

For 60 years, we have struggled, grown and profited by being part of the fabric of hometown America. We broadcast the spirit of our towns and regions. We capture their uniqueness, their flavor. We are one together.

We are more than a license, a call sign, a place on the dial. We are reflection, a galvanizing force. Through news, information, public affairs and air personalities, our audience knows that we are one with them.

I'm concerned. I'm not against bigness. I'm not against change. I am calling for a special sensitivity by all, including ourselves, in recognizing our standing in the community and our mission in life, to our neighbors, to America.

When a hostile takeover emerges with the objective of dismantling an existing company for stockholder profit, I understand. But I ask, has anyone measured the intangibles, the service that company may have provided or the possible longterm effects?

Perhaps it's time to remind the investment community and the takeover wizards that broadcasting is indeed a unique industry--much different from other corporate citizens in America. We live in a world that requires commitments beyond the bottom line.

On Industry's Public Trust

Broadcasting, by virtue of the licensing process, maintains a uniquely special and delicately balanced relationship between government regulation and the public we serve in our communities. In a way, it could be considered a three-way partnership. The licensing process requires us as public trustees to serve the public interest. We have never advocated removal of that public-interest standard. In fact, our obligation is to serve the public interest first and stockholder interest second, not the other way around.

A broadcaster, so serve the public interest, must devote considerable resources to the task, thus diverting them from the bottom line. That's an obligation we accept and a commitment we make in applying for our licenses.

When hostile takeovers are aimed at liquidating a company to maximize assets, without regard to the balanced relationship previously mentioned, all of us, whether publicly held or not, should pause to reflect.

We broadcasters are concerned. I sense that Cogress has strong interest in assuring that this great system of free over-the-air radio and television continues to grow and develop in an orderly fashion and continues to serve the public.

Admittedly, the FCC rules regarding public ownership of broadcasting companies are somewhat different than those governing privately held companies. Unfortunately, they are sufficiently blurred so as to confuse almost all the players. When does control of a publicly held comapny change? Is prior FCC approval for public companies required as it is in private transfers? Certainly these are complex questions, but the time for answers has arrived. The FCC must clarify the ground rules so all the players know where they stand. Last week they announced a notice of inquiry. This is an encouraging step.

On the Spirit of Broadcasting

I believe, as Thoreau did, that "a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience." And the world of broadcasting is composed of men and women of conscience, who willingly shoulder their obligation to serve the public interest.

Scratch beneath the surface of modern broadcasting and you will find that the heart and soul burn brightly. It is the spirit of broadcasting which remains, and will remain, rooted firmly in serving and identifying with the local community.

Service to the community is the linchpin of American broadcasting. It is alive and well and flourishing in 10,000 stations nationwide. It is our strength and our assurance of our survival.

At NAB, we recognize that spirit of dedication. You have been remarkably generous in response to our public service campaigns. The Broadcasters' Council to Improve American Productivity has made "let's work together,c with Howard K. Smith, a familiar theme to millions of Americans. It's another way of taking part . . . and you can take deserved pride in its accomplishments.

In 1984, NAB undertook a national voter awareness campaign, the theme of last year's convention. Again, you responded overwhelmingly. Radio and television stations explored issues, held candidate forums and enhanced voter awareness as never before. You took part in the political process and you can take pride.

In recent years, the public has focused its attention on the tragic results of drunk and drugged driving. For decades, broadcasters have contributed to this awareness through their news and public affairs coverage. Last year NAB began coordinating a national anti-drunk driving campaign by establishing a blue-ribbon national task force, which in turn helped form local task forces in all 50 states by working through the state broadcaster associations. The theme, "A National Responsibility . . . A Local Solution," was adopted, and our first coordinated effort targeted this past Christmas--New Year's holiday season. The ariwaves were flooded with news stories, PSAs, editorials and public affairs programs. By all accounts, this industry played a major role in reducing the incidence of alcohol- and drug-related accidents during the holidays. . . .

On Banning Specific Product Commercials

It's ironic that broadcasters, who have been in the vanguard of those seeking solutions, are now being cast by some as villains. The proposal is to ban beer and wine commercials from radio and television. Failing that, mandated counter-advertising is being sought. The premise is that beer and wine ads glamorize alcohol, thereby promoting abuse and teenage drinking.

Let me state emphatically, if we believed a ban would solve the problem of abuse, we would voluntarily remove the ads from our airwaves. First and fore-most, we are Americans. We care about our communities, about our families, neighbors and friends. We are parents trying to guide our children through the difficult rites of passage into adulthood. We don't want a drunk--or drugged--society. We want to keep the drunks off the road and the drugs out of our schools.

No recognized research substantiates claims that broadcast advertising of beer and wine contributes to alcohol misuse. To the contrary, all the studies, and there are many, indicate there is no casual relationship between advertising and alcohol misuse. The linkage is not there.

We believe as broadcasters we have First Amendment freedom-of-speech rights to broadcast advertisements for legally produced and sold products. We also believe that advertisers have First Amendment rights to utilize our stations for advertising those products. . . .

Our Alcohol and Drug Abuse Task Force has stressed the need for long-term commitments. Toward that end, as a recently appointed board member of the National Commission on Drunk Driving, I am proud to announce joint awards established by the National Commission and NAB for the most-creative, original programming developed by stations. These awards for each of the 50 states will be presented at state meetings. . . .

As you are aware, broadcasting is facing significant challenges on a series of advertising issues. The beer-and-wine issue, a proposal for mandated warning messages on aspirin commercials concerning the dangers of Reye's Syndrome, and a proposal to elimiate smokeless tobacco ads on radio and TV.

In all these cases and many more sure to follow, broadcasters through the NAB must demonstrate our willingness to work with others for the betterment of society. But we must also defend free broadcasting and commercial speech to keep the government away from programming broadcast stations. Goods and services that are lawfully produced and sold must have the right to market their products in all media. . . .

The future is complex, fast-paced, exciting, challenging. Mighty issues confront us. Our continued success depends on your continued involvement. It depends on explaining this great industry and how it works to our elected representatives in Congress, to citizen groups in our communities and to a public enthralled by this magic business called broadcasting. We owe it to ourselves to take part, and we justly can take pride in our unrivaled record of success and service. . . .

We are a prominent and powerful industry. We serve a free and good society. We have a self-interest in ensuring that our strenght endures as we proceed forward to new levels of service and satisfaction. . . The destiny of this industry will be determined by those of us with the vision to recognize that by taking part today we can truly take pride in tomorrow.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fritts, E.
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:transcript
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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