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Media Council Opposes TV Merger

August 20th, 2009 by Ryan Ozawa · 3 Comments · Business, Hawaii, Media, Television

When the people who cover the news become the news, it’s often difficult to separate the story from the storytellers. On Tuesday, Alabama-based Raycom Media announced that television news operations at KGMB, KHNL and KFVE will be consolidated under a “shared services agreement.” After simultaneous 9 a.m. meetings at all three stations, the joint press releases said it was “an operational arrangement, not an ownership change,” and that it was inked “to creatively and successfully address the impact of the negative economy and to secure the future of all three television stations in Hawaii.”

Essentially, KGMB was in financial dire straits, despite ascending to the top of most ratings charts. And the deal will mean dozens of people will lose their jobs. Even so, company officials pointed to a silver lining, saying the move “would result in the state’s largest television news department producing more local news and other local programming than any other station in Hawaii.”

Everyone is still trying to figure out what the plan involves. The public seems largely concerned (if it’s concerned at all) about which anchors and reporters will stay and which will go. Personally, having enjoyed watching KGMB experiment with social media , I’m curious whether the new news operation will continue those efforts.

But media watchdogs and others concerned about media consolidation are raising red flags over the “shared services agreement.” After all, the airwaves are a public trust, and federal rules limit how much control any single entity can have over a region’s media outlets.

Media Council Hawaii (formerly the Honolulu Community Media Council) has issued a position paper opposing the merger. The full-text of the council’s statement follows.

Media Council Hawai`i — formerly known as the Honolulu Community Media Council — said it is opposed to plans to merge station functions at KGMB, KHNL and KFVE television stations as part of so-called “Shared Services Agreement.”

The Media Council said the agreement is a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent Federal Communications Commission rules prohibiting joint ownership of two or more stations of the top four in a television market.

“Democracy requires diversity of opinion and robust communication of information… cozy deals with offshore owners may help their bottom line, but will result in layoffs, diminish diversity, and rob Hawai`i’s public of the best use of our airwaves,” said Chris Conybeare, president of Media Council Hawai`i.

Conybeare said that while today’s announcements works to avoid calling the arrangement a “tri-opoly” in which there is common ownership of three stations, this arrangement is clearly intended to do just that.

The current rule restricting broadcast ownership is intended to protect the public interest by encouraging competition, providing for diversity of content and encouraging local ownership. Raycom’s proposed merger flies in the face of these principles.

Broadcast licensees have the privilege of using the “public airwaves” to advance the public interest through local television journalism and public affairs programming. Dispersion of ownership is a means of protecting these democratic functions in free, over-the-air broadcasting. The public airwaves cannot and should not be treated as the private domain of one company because inevitably it will lead to market interests overriding any commitment to the public.

For seven years, KHON and KGMB operated under at “temporary” waiver of the rule. That led to reduction of staff and homogenization of the news diminished one independent news organization’s voice in Hawai`i’s limited marketplace of ideas.

The Media Council is opposed to repeating the mistakes of the past in issues of broadcast ownership.

The Media Council agrees with the sentiments once expressed by former FCC Commissioner Susan Ness, who said: “Where there is excessive market power, freedom of expression is imperiled.”

The Honolulu Community Media Council (HCMC) — renamed Media Council Hawai`i — was established in 1970 and is the oldest of the five volunteer media councils that exist in the United States. The Council is composed of individuals from the community and the media and is a non-partisan, non-profit, non-governmental independent group, which seeks to improve public access to information, strengthen public support for First Amendment rights and freedoms, broaden public understanding of the role of the media, and promote accurate and fair journalism in Hawaii.

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