Much of television is dedicated to entertainment and fantasy. It seems that Hawaii News Now executives Rick Blangiardi and Mark Platte have a difficult time separating fantasy from reality.

Their recent Civil Beat column that purports to “correct the record” about Hawaii television news consolidation illustrates their desire to replace facts with fantasy.

As Blangiardi and Platte should know, television stations use the electromagnetic spectrum, “the airwaves,” to send their signal to our homes. This spectrum is a limited resource and is owned by the public, not the broadcaster. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grants licenses to use this public property to broadcasters on the condition that they serve the public interest by promoting diversity, competition, and localism. The current arrangement managed by Blangiardi and Platte does not.

Simulcast TV news KGMB KHNL Hawaii News Now

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In October 2009, Raycom Media of Alabama, under the cover of a complex legal and financial arrangement known as a “shared services agreement,” took over ownership and control of stations KHNL, KGMB, and KFVE.

Prior to this deal, there were two vibrant and independent newsrooms, NBC network station (KHNL) and CBS station (KGMB), competing in the local news market. As a result of the “shared services agreement,” 60 employees were fired, and all operations were moved to Raycom’s facilities. Now there is one newsroom, Hawaii News Now, which produces the news for simultaneous broadcast on KHNL and KGMB, and for subsequent use by KFVE.

In effect, Hawaii News Now creates the illusion of competition for news and entertainment even as it is all under one monopolistic roof. Where’s the public interest in that?

In a moment of candor, Blangiardi and Platte concede that the two network affiliates, KHNL and KGMB, are owned by Raycom. The FCC has a “duopoly rule” that says no one entity can own and control two stations in the top four in any community and no entity can own more than two in any case. Raycom admits to outright ownership of two (CBS and NBC) of the top four stations, and the evidence shows that they also control the third station. Where’s the public interest in that?

KFVE exists in name only. KFVE has no facilities, studio, transmitter, or production staff. It calls itself independent, but has only two employees, one of them called a General Manager. It is a classic “shell” company. KHNL’s General Manager offers an occasional editorial opinion on KFVE, but this does not make the station independent. It clearly could not exist without Raycom Media.

Look closely at the complex history and legal documents connected to the consolidation deal and it reveals that Raycom is the real owner of KFVE. Where’s the public interest in that?

Raycom Media/Hawaii News Now dominates the market. This state of diminished competition weakens the ability of minorities, women, and local interests to acquire station ownership or even to aspire to become media owners. Our community is small but ethnically diverse. This one-size-fits-all approach does not address the full range of local issues, nor does it reflect Hawaii’s rich complexity. Where’s the public interest in that?

Media Council Hawaii first challenged Raycom Media’s consolidation deal in 2009, asking the FCC to block it as a violation of the duopoly rule. In 2011 the FCC ‘s Media Bureau, which is like a lower court, denied the request on a technicality, saying that since applications for licenses were not being sought, the FCC could not take action. MCH is appealing that ruling to the full commission. Interestingly enough, the Media Bureau did say:

“We agree with Media Council insofar as it suggests that the net effect of the transactions, in this case- an extensive exchange of critical programming and branding assets with an existing in-market, top-four network affiliate-is clearly at odds with the duopoly rule.”

Now, all three stations — KHNL, KGMB and KFVE — have applied for mandatory license renewal.

On Jan. 2, Media Council Hawaii filed a petition with the FCC to deny the renewal of their licenses. Read the petition and judge for yourself the facts in this case.

MCH believes renewing these licenses would violate the local television ownership rules and be clearly contrary to the public interest. Dismissing Raycom’s license applications would make these stations available for new owners that would better serve the needs of the community.

We live in a community where monopoly forces exert tremendous control over the free flow of information. Raycom Media unfairly dominates the television market, and its media partner, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, dominates print media.

A return to a more diverse, competitive and locally focused media environment is sorely needed in this community. At the very least, it will encourage a more real and diverse media environment rather than the fantasy offered by Blangiardi and Platte. Our community deserves nothing less.

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