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Special to Kalamalama by Judy Tanouye

 
The advocacy group is an offshoot of the 35-year-old Honolulu Community Media Council, a mediation-friendly group which began in 1970 when a dispute occurred between then Mayor Frank Fasi and a local print reporter who was covering City Hall.

Honolulu is only one of a handful of cities that has an established news council. The newly formed Hawai‘i Media Action Group has kicked off a year-long pilot project entitled “Public Interest: Local Obligations of TV Broadcasters.” It is being conducted to coincide with the annual Federal Communications Commission local TV license renewal process.

Television viewers might recall seeing an annual spot invitation announcement from broadcasters for the public to visit stations during business hours in order to inspect their public files on such matters as correspondence on programs, political files, children’s shows, and licensee applications to the FCC.
According to group member Christopher Conybeare, “HiMAG was started as an action offspring of the HCMC to address a variety of issues involving media and grew out of concern for the Emmis violation of the duopoly rule and its implication for stifling democracy.”

Conybeare added: “Phase one for volunteers will be to attend a short training session (about two hours), followed by visits to the major TV stations.… Depending on volunteer resources, we may then look at the rest.

“ Initial station visits take two to three hours, depending on what we find. There will then be a follow-up session to debrief [and] write up findings for the FCC if necessary. The group will together decide next steps, which could include meeting with station management, monitoring content, etc.”

Regulation of the airways, and the FCC, became necessary shortly after the sinking of the Titanic. Desperate relatives and friends from several continents were unable to receive important and timely information on the ship’s demise and survivors. At that time, even President Roosevelt wasn’t able to communicate with a member of his administration who had been traveling on the ship.

The conflict over communication control by a telegraph operator on the ship, a national newspaper attempting to be the sole provider of information on the big story, and a public frantic for information, demonstrated an immediate need for federal intervention to preserve people’s access to important information.

The public can comment adversely or positively to the FCC as to whether it feels individual broadcast licensees have fulfilled their obligations to the local community. HiMAG is seeking more volunteers to visit and inspect the public files of licensees and to provide the FCC with comments and recommendations based on their findings and analysis. (An orientation and training meeting is planned for the first week of December. For information, e-mail himediaactiongroup@ yahoo.com.)

Informal objections to the practices or policies of a broadcast licensee can be sent to the FCC secretary in Washington, D.C. These are less stringent than a petition to deny a license or a license renewal, which requires requires parties to have standing, which usually includes more than being a regular viewer, even one with a demonstrated, vital interest in the process. HiMAG will provide standing to viewers interested in the process of protecting the community’s unfettered access to information.
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Future issues for HiMAG, depending upon local interest, could include media ownership, Internet and broadband regulation, protection of PBS, low power radio, and other topics listed on freepress.net.

According to the Bill of Media Rights: “The American public has a right to: Meaningful participation in government media policy, including disclosure of the ways broadcasters comply with their public interest obligations, ascertain their community’s needs, and create programming to serve those needs.”

 

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