Thursday, December 28, 2006


Hawaii's Public Access Television under attack locally and nationally

In 2007 Hawaii's public access TV may be discontinued or turned over to a Mainland megacorporation. Your favorite programs could disappear in favor of partisan, special-interest (or even religious) programming. This can happen if decisions made in illegal secret meetings involving several state departments are not overturned.

All of Hawaii's PEG providers are under attack at the moment, in a battle being fought largely out of sight of the newspaper-reading and commercial TV-viewing public. At the same time, the largest national phone companies are doing their best to have PEG services defunded entirely.

As a discerning consumer of alternative media you may have favorite programs on `Olelo, Akaku, or one of the other public access TV services in Hawaii. These services (referred to as PEG, or (P)ublic, (E)ducational and (G)overnment channels) make time available for local producers to get their own shows distributed on the cable systems. `Olelo and perhaps the others also stream on the Internet, so that programs are available statewide and on the Mainland as well. They also provide training, equipment and facilities to make this possible.

Public access channels bring you information, points of view, entertainment and cultural insights that you simply won't find on Fox News. Wouldn't it be sad if Fox were put in charge of this programming? It could happen--all they'd have to do is have a non-profit subsidiary come in with a low bid and demonstrate that they can do TV production. It's that simple.

Moneyed Interests Object to Broadcast Content

Earlier this year Maui PEG provider Akaku was thrown into turmoil and lost its executive director in a battle allegedly fomented by developers who objected to the content that was broadcast. This time, all the PEG providers are being targeted.

Here is a snippet from a statement by Sean McLaughlin, then ED of Akaku to its board of directors which seems particularly applicable to the current situation:
... Of even greater concern - and this is the root of the present crisis here - Akaku is often called upon to silence voices that challenge or disagree with special interests. Like many community media operations around the country, Akaku has been repeatedly threatened with unethical legal attacks. And this year Akaku was assaulted with stealth legislative maneuvers at least in part because the organization refuses to censor community voices, holding true to the free speech mission of empowering our community's voice without discrimination.

You all must remember that it is not your place as the governing Board of Akaku to curry favor or personal benefits by offering privilege to special interests - least of all when you are asked to censor or silence the voices of our community.

Do not be afraid of free speech and do not be intimidated by powerful interests that seek to control and direct our community's voice.

Please be ever vigilant and always remain aware that there are special private interests who profit from controlling media and building imbalance. Building im-balance in darkness and out of public view these interests can fatally corrupt the oversight of this organization, divert community resources to State control, undermine your guiding principles, and taint the basic open access operations of Akaku.
There are people in Hawaii who object to what is being shown on the public access channels and who seek allies in our state government, which has held a series of meetings on PEG access in violation of open meeting laws.

At these meetings (as far as we can know, because many have been held in secret) your access to free speech public access TV is being snatched away. The state plans to require that providers go through a bidding process. And they are preventing current providers from applying on equal footing to larger, even Mainland, entities. What you will get on your screen will be determined by a company of the state's choosing.

In fact, chances are fair that one day soon Hawaii public access channels could either go dark (if the FCC and phone companies have their way) or (if our state government has its way) be provided not by a local entity but by a subsidary of Fox News, Time Warner, or any other Mainland company that comes in with a winning bid on a state contract now being written for these services.

Free speech public access TV is now an endangered species. You could lose it entirely.

FCC Sells Out Public Interest

On the national scene, phone companies are in the midst of a big push to compete with cable companies. Part of that involves getting the federal government to dump the requirement that providers of TV channels have to provide funds for local public access television in exchange for the right to put their cables under the city streets, which are after all owned by the community.

The FCC recently took the first step in undermining that funding. Here is a short summary from last Thursday's Democracy Now:
FCC Hands Telecoms Victory on Cable Franchising

In media news, the Federal Communications Commission has agreed to change cable franchising laws so that local communities have less control over incoming pay-television providers. The vote was pushed for by the telecom giants Verizon and AT&T. The final was vote was three to two. Opponents are already planning a court challenge. Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said: "The FCC, in the spirit of Christmas, has given the biggest gift of all to the giant telephone companies while the children of our cities and towns get a lump of coal in their torn stockings."

Government Agencies Conspire in Hawaii

The decision that the Hawaii PEG contracts will be terminated and put out to bid in 2007 was apparently made in a secret and probably illegal meeting held by the Procurement Policy Board on October 5, 2006. The executive session was not listed on the agenda, so it should not have been held, according to Hawaii's open meeting laws.

Who participated and what did they discuss? The minutes do not tell us. From those in attendance, it seems that the participants were the Procurement Policy Board members, the Attorney General's office (represented by Pat Ohara, Deputy Attorney General) and DCCA, the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, which regulates the cable industry and supervises the PEG providers (represented by Clyde Sonobu).

The meeting lasted 2 hours and 12 minutes, after which the PPB decided the PEG contracts must go to bidding. Keep in mind that testimony was overwhelmingly against this (see the summary of testimony at the end of the minutes).

There is a reason why Hawaii and other states have open meeting laws. Secret meetings deny the public access to the decisionmaking process and thwart accountability. We have a right, under the law, to know what was discussed at this (and previous) meetings, and if the decision was reached illegally, it should be set aside.

Since the PPB may be under pressure from groups that want to take over public access television, we need to know if they have caved in to political pressure at the expense of the public interest.

All participants were aware of the requirements of the open meeting law, yet they met in secret anyway. In particular, the Deputy Attorney General should have known the law and could have informed the participants before or during the meeting of the requirements the law places on them if they want to hold an executive session.

In order to avoid participating in an illegal activity herself, the deputy should, in my view, have left the meeting if the PPB declined to terminate it.

DCCA already regulates the PEG services in Hawaii. It is not clear why, after so many years, the contracts should be put out to bid. There is no state money involved, nor does the state gain any asset or receive any services. The procurement process doesn't fit PEG services, and is not applied to other moneys funding non-profits in Hawaii.

Viewers have every right to be suspicious of this action and how it has been conducted. And we should be questioning why our Attorney General's office participates in illegal secret meetings whether it is the Procurement Policy Board attacking free speech public access services or the Board of Education firing a popular charter school executive.

Current PEG Providers Intentionally Disadvantaged

Two provisions of the bidding process which are part of the draft RFP (Request for Proposals) deliberately disadvantage the current PEG providers. The first excludes them from using staff or facilities to prepare the bid! No other bidder is restricted similarly. The second is the rating system which favors broadcast experience but not PEG experience. By the criteria the state plans to apply, any large broadcast organization, especially one willing to buy its way into the market, can succeed by listing its years of experience on the airwaves. The need to form a non-profit is no obstacle, a non-profit can still pay huge executive salaries.

For now, if you are concerned about loss of these free speech channels or of the flagrant disregard for open meeting laws, it is a good time to write a few letters to the editor or to contact your state legislative representatives. You might also call (586-0034), fax (586-0006) or email ( the governor and ask that the state keep its hands off free speech public access television. You can ask the Office of Information Practices ( to rule on whether the decisions reached at the secret meeting on October 5 should be set aside.

Ask them to save public access TV from commercial interests and to obey the sunshine laws that are already on the books.


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