Governor’s radio messages
are within her rights


Governor Lingle has issued public service radio announcements with political messages.

GOVERNOR Lingle came under criticism a year ago when she allowed a private advocacy group to lobby for her education reform proposals from her office. Democrats now criticize her use of public service announcements on radio to promote her agenda, but that activity is entirely proper. The broadcasters maintain the right to air the messages or not.

Public service announcements, for which broadcasters impose no charge, usually inform radio listeners about matters of community interest, typically about health and safety, social services or environmental concerns. Although the Federal Communications Commission vaguely allows radio stations to count PSAs toward their statutory public service obligations, stations are not obligated to broadcast them and have been found to exercise discretion, and in some cases special scrutiny, before doing so.

Longtime radio announcer Brickwood Galuteria, the present chairman of the Democratic Party, says he refrains from saying "political things" while on the air. Lingle's radio messages are "in my opinion abusing the concept of a public service announcement," he says. "In no way does it provide information that is nonpartisan."

The FCC says public service announcements are provided without charge by broadcasters to government or nonprofit organizations promoting their programs, activities or services. The Advertising Council, longtime producer of such announcements, suggested that "such messages ... not be commercial, political or designed to influence legislation," but the FCC has chosen not to adopt such constraints. The commission also dropped the Fairness Doctrine's equal-time requirement decades ago because of First Amendment considerations.

The Lingle administration was criticized last year for providing office space to a registered lobby and earmarking state funds to be injected into the effort. That activity violated state ethics laws against state resources being used for private purposes.

Lingle adviser Lenny Klompus says the public service announcements are recorded while the governor is at KHVH radio for her weekly statewide radio appearance, so they don't cost taxpayers. He told the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca that new digital technology allows them to be e-mailed to radio stations around the state.

Radio station managers are aware of the advocacy tone of the messages, some of which urge the public to call their legislators to support her bills to extend tax credits and increase the standard deduction on income taxes. The messages are unquestionably political.

The radio stations may wish to trim Lingle's messages or decline to air them at all. The FCC observed 25 years ago that "PSAs concerning controversial matters are not usually aired," and that has not changed.

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