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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 23, 2006

What's happening at KHON2 affects us all

By Edgy Lee

The new owners of KHON2, in the Hawaiki Tower on Piçikoi Street, announced they were eliminating 35 positions at the TV station.

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I'm an independent filmmaker whose work is often broadcast in Hawai'i. I am speaking out now, however, not as a producer, but as John Q. Public.

The sale of KHON2 is another sign of changing times.

Rick Blangiardi, KHON2's former GM, worked with Hawai'i producers to ensure that we participated in shaping what Hawai'i's families watch on TV. His recent exit from KHON2 was followed by resignations of eight department heads (and a news director) who refused to make a "Sophie's Choice" list of colleagues to be fired. These principled professionals chose to resign instead.

So what's this got to do with you and me?

We all know that the global economy is shifting. Millions of other Americans have lost jobs, homes, pensions and confidence in a system that seems to have lost us, the common man, whose loyalty and work ethic built this country. What happened at KHON2 is not just about losing jobs; nor does it concern just the TV industry. It is about the American public losing its voice.

In the past, the FCC imposed meaningful public-interest obligations on broadcasters. Recently, though, it has relinquished nearly all of its oversight duties. Companies now can use public airwaves to make enormous profits, milking this precious resource without giving back to American communities. We the public, the people who own these airwaves, have little say in what is broadcast into our homes and to our children.

Apparently we have even less say in station owners' conduct and their responsibilities to you and me.

Station owners now can buy as many radio and TV stations as they wish, turn them upside down and sell them months later. No longer are broadcasters obliged to air public service announcements. To fulfill a children's programming mandate, they can run two hours of cartoons.

They also can shift the responsibility of providing original programming that reflects a community to underfunded public stations, even as their profits soar into the millions.

When we produced the first crystal methamphetamine film for Hawai'i, we asked the major network affiliates to air it, and general managers from 11 stations agreed to pre-empt prime-time shows to broadcast it without a single commercial.

Every station absorbed the enormous cost of this public service. This set the pace for a second simulcast a year later —something no other state in the union can claim. Sadly, it is unlikely that we'll ever see this kind of event again, given the mandate of KHON2's new owners.

With the loss of Blangiardi and his staff, Hawai'i's viewers must look to other local broadcasters to do even more to ensure the continued presence of programs that reflect the deepest concerns of our unique local culture.

If they cannot meet the challenge, what we'll view on our beautiful flat screens will be largely dictated by Madison Avenue. When we realize the depth of our loss, when all that's left is the same homogenized information and entertainment served to the rest of the country, it may be too late.

So what can we do? We can join a growing national movement to learn more about initiating change in FCC regulations.

In the meantime, across this country, stations will continue to be bought and sold like used cars, while We the People sit in our recliners entertained and informed by a few businessmen — watching what they choose to provide us, on public airwaves that we have given them the privilege to control.

Edgy Lee is a Hawai'i artist and filmmaker. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.