Erika Engle

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Advocacy groups
take a conference call
to fight deregulation

Activist groups are crying out for outcry against relaxation of media ownership limits. Easing the limits will further concentrate control of public airwaves in fewer hands, they say.

In Honolulu, two companies own a combined four television stations. Four other companies own or operate a combined 21 radio stations and the owner of The Honolulu Advertiser, Gannett Co. Inc., wants to increase its broadcast holdings.

Public interest groups staged a telephone briefing for reporters yesterday to argue that the Federal Communications Commission's June 2 vote could erode American democracy.

Panelists included representatives of Common Cause,, Free Press, the Future of Music Coalition and musician Mike Mills of REM, among others.

Proposals governing the airwaves to be voted on by the three Republican and two Democratic commissioners are being withheld from the public.

"It is contrary to the proper American way of doing things," said Mills.

The groups want to preserve diversity, which supporters of deregulation argue has increased with the explosion of cable channels and the Internet.

"But it ain't local diversity," countered Mike Rosenberg, president and general manager of KITV. "There are 10 (TV) stations that do local broadcasts. All the rest of the programming comes from New York or Connecticut or other places."

Local diversity is also the point for Free Press President Robert McChesney.

"If in fact the Internet was creating so much competition, the value of stations would plummet," said McChesney. Instead, they are increasing in value, he said. "As long as there's this market power, the government has every right to regulate media ownership."

A Future of Music Coalition study found that four or fewer companies control 50 percent to 90 percent of advertising dollars and access to radio listeners in their markets, with the higher percentages occurring in smaller markets.

That two companies own most of the top-rated radio stations in Honolulu has made life easier for advertisers, according to Jack Bates, chairman of Starr Seigle Communications Inc., the state's largest advertising agency.

"If you wanted to put together a marketwide promotion, in the past, something beyond advertising, you had to literally negotiate with every station and some would be effective and some would not. Today we're able to go to the groups and talk about the promotion. What they're able to come up with is so much stronger," he said.

Placing advertising on television hasn't changed much since Honolulu's second two-station duopoly started about two years ago.

"Where the KFVE-KHNL relationship has really been a joint marketing relationship from the very beginning, KGMB and KHON are still two different networks and we tend to work with them more independently," said Bates.

Increases in advertising rates are due more to the economics of the state than ownership, he said.

The example of Texas-based Clear Channel Communications Inc. is inevitably raised in such discussions. In the United States it owns more than 1,200 radio stations and 39 television stations, 776,000 outdoor advertising displays, concert promotion and other entertainment companies. Seven of its radio stations are in Honolulu.

"Clear Channel is the poster child for what's about to go wrong with other media," said Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached


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