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Essay

Stop broadcast license renewals for the Raycom Media cartel

The danger of the Hawaii News Now media monopoly.

in Open Newsroom in Open Government

Television stations use the electromagnetic spectrum, “the airwaves,” to send their signal to our homes. This spectrum is a limited resource and is owned by the public, not the broadcaster. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) grants licenses to use this public property to broadcasters on the condition that they serve the public interest by promoting diversity, competition and localism. 

In October 2009, Raycom Media of Alabama, under the cover of a complex legal and financial arrangement known as a “shared services agreement,” took over ownership and control of stations KHNL, KGMB and KFVE. 

Prior to this deal, there were two vibrant and independent newsrooms, an NBC network station (KHNL) and a CBS station (KGMB), competing in the local news market. As a result of the “shared services agreement,” 60 employees were fired and all operations were moved to Raycom’s facilities. Now there is one newsroom, Hawaii News Now, which produces the news for simultaneous broadcast on KHNL and KGMB, and for subsequent use by KFVE.

In effect, Hawaii News Now creates the illusion of competition for news and entertainment even as it is all under one monopolistic roof. Where’s the public interest in that?

Raycom concedes that the two network affiliates, KHNL and KGMB, are owned by Raycom. The FCC has a Duopoly Rule that says no one entity can own and control two stations in the top four in any community and no entity can own more than 2 in any case.  Raycom admits to outright ownership of two (CBS and NBC) of the top 4 stations, and the evidence shows that they also control the third station.  Where’s the public interest in that?

KFVE exists in name only. KFVE has no facilities, studio, transmitter, or production staff. It calls itself independent, but has only two employees, one of them called a General Manager. It is a classic “shell” company. KHNL’s General Manager offers an occasional editorial opinion on KFVE, but this does not make the station independent. It clearly could not exist without Raycom Media. Scrutiny of the complex history and legal documents connected to the consolidation deal reveals that Raycom is the real owner of KFVE. Where’s the public interest in that?

Raycom Media/Hawaii News Now dominates the market. This state of diminished competition weakens the ability of minorities, women and local interests to acquire station ownership or even to aspire to become media owners. Our community is small but ethnically diverse. This one-size-fits-all approach does not address the full range of local issues, nor does it reflect Hawaii’s rich complexity. Where’s the public interest in that?

Media Council Hawaii first challenged Raycom Media’s consolidation deal in 2009, asking the FCC to block it as a violation of the duopoly rule. In 2011 the FCC ‘s Media Bureau, which is like a lower court, denied the request on a technicality, saying that since applications for licenses were not being sought, the FCC could not take action. MCH is appealing that ruling to the full commission. Interestingly enough, the Media Bureau did say: 

We agree with Media Council insofar as it suggests that the net effect of the transactions—in this case an extensive exchange of critical programming and branding assets with an existing in-market, top-four network affiliate—is clearly at odds with the duopoly rule.

Now, all three stations—KHNL, KGMB and KFVE—have applied for mandatory license renewal.

On January 2, 2015, Media Council Hawaii filed a petition with the FCC to deny the renewal of their licenses. Read the petition and judge for yourself the facts in this case.

MCH believes renewing these licenses would violate the local television ownership rules and is clearly contrary to the public interest. Dismissing Raycom’s license applications would make these stations available for new owners that would better serve the needs of the community.

We urge members of the public to take action now to protect the public airwaves by writing directly to the FCC regarding the license renewals. Letters should be addressed as follows (note: your letter must contain the listed renewal numbers):

Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
Office of the Secretary
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
Re: Renewal numbers:
KHNL: BRCDT - 20141001CEM
KGMB: BRCDT - 20141001CDU
KFVE: BRCDT - 20140930AFX

We live in a community where monopoly forces exert tremendous control over the free flow of information. Raycom Media unfairly dominates the television market, and its media partner, The Honolulu Star Advertiser, dominates print media.

A return to a more diverse, competitive and locally focused media environment is sorely needed in this community. At the very least, it will encourage a more real and diverse media environment rather than the fantasy offered by Blangiardi and Platte. Our community deserves nothing less.

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