TV station consolidation draws more opposition


POSTED: Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three organizations have joined Media Council Hawaii in its opposition to the shared-services agreement between KGMB-TV and KHNL/KFVE-TV, set to take effect in the middle of next month.

The Hawaii chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, Common Cause and Americans for Democratic Action “;have all joined us now,”; said Chris Conybeare, Media Council Hawaii president.

The agreement between station owners Raycom Media Inc. and MCG Capital Corp., announced Aug. 18, will merge news and other operations into the current KHNL/KFVE facilities on Waiakamilo Road. MCG sold the KGMB property at 1534 Kapiolani Blvd. and the station has continued to operate there under a lease-back agreement.

“;As a result of the excesses and failure of the financial sector, I think that there is growing public support for a new look at necessary regulation in the public interest,”; Conybeare said. “;This pressure from the public is good news and bodes well for our request that the (U.S.) Justice Department investigate the Raycom television merger here,”; he said.

The request has yet to be made, “;but we anticipate doing so,”; Conybeare said.

“;All kinds of people have come up to me and said, 'I'm glad you're doing this,'”; including current employees of the stations, state Supreme Court justices and others, Conybeare said.

The word merger appeared nowhere in the TV stations' announcement, but coincidentally, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice announced plans to seek public comment for its review of merger guidelines, its first since 1992.

“;The 1992 guidelines explicitly stated that they would be revised from time to time. We think the time has come to do that,”; FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.

The last review came well before the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed for sweeping ownership consolidation in the broadcast industry, a move that allowed a single company to own two TV stations or as many as seven radio stations in a market the size of Honolulu.

Longtime industry figure and trade publication owner Jerry Del Colliano has railed against deregulation and consolidation for more than a decade, primarily concerning radio.

“;Consolidation could have worked if regulators and legislators hadn't given away the entire radio industry to a few greedy people,”; he wrote yesterday. “;In effect, radio consolidation was the forerunner to the greed that destroyed the greater economy.”;

The joint FTC-DOJ announcement, as well as a list of questions for public input, are posted online at both agencies' Web sites.

Meanwhile, now that the dozens of employees who will lose their jobs under the agreement know who they are, behind-the-scenes preparations to promote the survivors are afoot.

KGMB weather anchor Ben Gutierrez posted a preliminary picture of the on-camera members of the combined news staffs on his station blog. Keahi Tucker and Liz Chun are not pictured, but the group had not fully assembled when the informal shot was taken.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.  Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).