Seattle ethnic media say confusion persists about digital TV

by Kenneth Kim, New America Media

Editor's Note: Briefings for ethnic media on the transition to digital television and its impact on their communities were organized by New America Media as part of a campaign funded by the Leadership Council for Civil Rights. The following is a report by NAM writer Kenneth Kim on a briefing held in Seattle, Wash.

Although the deadline for the switch to digital television has been postponed until the summer, providing a four-month reprieve for millions of "rabbit-ear” television viewers who risk losing access to over-the-air television, reporters from ethnic media say their communities may still be left in the dark.

Previous reports show that 12.5 percent of African-American households and 13 percent of Hispanic households are currently using analog televisions and are not ready for the digital transition.

"TV is a major source of information and entertainment for many people, but most of them don't know they won't be able to watch the channels unless they install converter boxes to translate the digital signals," said In Hae Park, a reporter for The Korea Times' Seattle Bureau. "We need to inform them how to avoid this peril."

Last month, a dozen reporters and activists who attended a roundtable discussion explored ways the ethnic media can educate their audiences on the digital TV transition.

The Jan. 13 event, organized by New America Media, Reclaim the Media, Media Action Grass Roots Network, and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, aims to mount an information campaign on how to continue to watch TV when broadcasters are slated to end analog broadcasts.

Initially, the digital transition was set for Feb. 17, but Congress last week postponed the date to allow people more time to prepare for the switch. The new date is now June 12. People who purchased TV sets after 2004 or who are subscribers to cable or satellite services will not be affected by the digital switch. But viewers with old TVs that rely on set-top rabbit ears or rooftop antennas must purchase a new TV or buy new equipment to continue receiving free reception.

In 2005, Congress put an end to analog broadcasting to free up airwaves for wireless phone and Internet services. Lawmakers also plan to make some of the airwaves available for public safety communication.

"Other countries are doing the same thing," said Karen Toering of Reclaim the Media. "However, the problem in this country is millions of households with older TV sets are not yet ready."

The Nielsen Company estimated that about 6.5 million households were unprepared for the switch.

According to Reclaim the Media, low-income families, elders and people with disabilities would be hardest hit by the digital TV transition.
Getting a converter box is the cheapest way to guarantee the free access to television. People in need of a converter box can request a $40 coupon to buy the equipment. Many non-profit agencies and advocacy groups in Seattle areas are assisting residents in getting the coupon. Participants at the meeting said they plan to spread the word about the switch in hopes to minimize the confusion caused by the digital TV transition. "We will inform our community that their TVs are in danger," said Don Pham, news writer and A&E editor of Nguoi Viet Tay Bac.

For more information, contact these organizations:

The National Asian Pacific Center on Aging in Seattle is providing services in these languages:

Chinese 1-800-582-4218

Korean 1-800-582-4259

Vietnamese 1-800-582-4336

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