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Strong news media depends on consumers taking a stand


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POSTED: Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's not just Honolulu's KGMB-TV, KHNL-TV and KFVE-TV that are under scrutiny for their shared services agreement.

The broader media ownership issue has gone mainstream on the mainland, sprouting from a tale for trade publications to Forbes itself and perhaps others.

Media Council Hawaii, which is fighting the deal before the Federal Communications Commission and has met with the U.S. Justice Department on alleged antitrust ramifications, also might involve some more federal alphabet soup.

“;We're definitely going to be looking at the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) as another place to bring this whole issue,”; said President Chris Conybeare.

In the meantime, it plans a Dec. 2 forum in conjunction with its annual meeting titled “;Save Local Television, Stop Big Media,”; from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Musicians Union Association offices at 949 Kapiolani Blvd. The cost is $20.

“;Community involvement is essential to winning this fight and the establishment of sound media policy,”; the flier asserts.

The key speaker will be Angela Campbell, a professor at Georgetown Law and an attorney with its Institute for Public Representation, representing MCH before the FCC.

“;Angela's looking forward to coming to ... being able to meet with the public and answer questions,”; Conybeare said.

Also speaking at the event will be Gerald Kato, journalist-turned-associate professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Conybeare, an attorney and a faculty member at UH-West Oahu.

As for the ownership issue hitting the mainstream fan, Forbes reported that “;the day after the Nov. 3 elections, television newscasts were focused on upset political victories ... (while) a different kind of politicking unfolded at the FCC, where television broadcasters argued for unprecedented rollbacks in ownership rules.”;

Patrick Communications managing partner Susan Patrick predicted to Forbes that rules restricting common ownership of a newspaper and TV or radio station in a market will be lifted.

In comments to the FCC, Hearst Television President David Barrett characterized the advertising recession as mostly permanent, not cyclical.

Boston's TV ad revenue is down to $300 million from $500 million before the recession, Forbes reported.

Locally, the ad pie for Honolulu TV stations has shrunk to $48 million from $68 million in 2006, according to officials involved in the local shared services agreement.

Honolulu SSA player Raycom Media Inc., based in Alabama, was granted one of, if not the first legal TV duopoly in the U.S., when it was allowed to own two stations in Honolulu: NBC affiliate KHNL-TV and independent station KFVE-TV.

In its deal with Virginia-based private equity firm MCG Capital Corp., the licensee of what was CBS affiliate KGMB-TV, Raycom now controls the NBC affiliate as well as the CBS affiliate, since KGMB and KFVE swapped programming and call letters.

Corporate balance sheets are hardly the only force at play on the media ownership battlefield.

Outmoded business models are out there, too, weaponless and exsanguine on the Internet where print and broadcast journalists' work product can be read; highlighted, copied and pasted; excerpted; plagiarized; and re-tweeted for free.

Around the time of the media council event, the Federal Trade Commission will convene a series of workshops titled “;From Town Crier to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?”;

National media watchdog group Free Press will participate and calls for a comprehensive effort across government, the private and nonprofit sectors as well as the public, to address the “;challenges facing quality reporting in print, online and on radio and TV.”;