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Portland Ethnic Media Discuss Transition to Digital TV

New America Media, News Report, Elena Shore Posted: Jan 15, 2009

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 Elena Shore on a briefing held in Portland, Oregon.

PORTLAND -- Ethnic media in Portland say they are afraid their communities will be left in the dark literally when their television sets convert to digital TV on Feb. 17.

I host a gospel show on Sundays, and I have a lot of in-home people who cant get out, said Angela Jenkins, station manager of KBMS Radio. The minority media is the gateway into the community. We have to let our consumers know where they can go.
PortlandLocal campaign coordinator Matt Blevins with Technology Coordinator
Joel Cherney and DTV Community Educator Liliya Daniyelyan of IRCO

Jenkins was one of five representatives from local ethnic media outlets who met on Jan. 12, 2009 with New America Media, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights to discuss how best to prepare their communities for the Feb. 17 digital television conversion.

Low-income families, elders and immigrant communities who dont have access to information to help them with the transition could be especially impacted by the conversion to digital television.

A lot of people share apartments, noted Jennifer Lin of the Asian Reporter newspaper. Each household can receive up to two converter boxes, but this may not be enough for those who live with large numbers of people. That could hit a lot of people in Asian and ethnic communities.

Being left without television often their primary source for news, weather warnings and emergency information -- constitutes a civil rights issue, according to Erica Swanson, Deputy Directory for Field Operations of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Representatives of ethnic media expressed frustration over the lack of information and the last-minute attempts to reach out to their communities.

Its tough when you have to come back to the office and answer phone calls and you dont have the answer, said Rodrigo Aguilar, publisher of the Spanish-language newspaper El Latino de Hoy. The Hispanic community needed this information yesterday.
Portland 2Members of the Leadership Council for Civil Rights meet with ethnic media
Members of the media requested essential information from the campaign to give out to their audiences, along with phone numbers where people can call for more information.

Converter boxes are the cheapest way to ensure that an old television can access digital TV; these cost at least $40, which can be offset with a government-provided coupon.

The good news is that the government isnt out of money. The coupons have not been redeemed at a 100 percent rate. As coupons expire, theyll be able to give that money to someone else who will use it, explained Mistique Cano, Vice President of Communications of LCCR, which is working with local organizations to help people get on the waiting list for the coupons.

But some retailers are not stocking the cheap boxes, and unauthorized retailers may even be selling boxes that dont work.

Members of the media pledged to get their communities involved not only in the campaign to inform elders and others who need help making the switch to digital TV, but also in being politically involved by putting pressure on stores like Best Buy and Radio Shack to stock cheaper boxes.

Joel Cherney, technology coordinator with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) in Portland, who described himself as just one guy with a ponytail and a tech degree, said he was excited about going and helping people install their converter boxes.

I get the feeling from this meeting that my phone is going to be ringing off the hook, he said.

For more information on converter box coupons, set up, etc., residents in the greater Portland area can contact the local assistance center:

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization
10301 NE Glisan Street
Portland, Oregon 97220

Photos: Dana Levine / New America Media

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