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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 21, 2010

Loss of licenses urged in TV merger

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Media Council Hawaii wants the Federal Communications Commission to pull the broadcast licenses of the stations involved in a newsroom merger last year. Revoking such licenses is a drastic step, but is not unprecedented.


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A local media watchdog group called for the revocation of the broadcast licenses of KGMB, KHNL and K5 television stations, saying the newsroom merger of three of Hawai'i's five largest stations represents an "egregious violation" of federal law barring one company from owning multiple television stations in a single market.

At a news conference yesterday, Media Council Hawaii said that Raycom Media Inc., which previously had owned KHNL and K5 before the deal, now owns all three stations since it controls virtually all aspects of the stations' operations.

"Raycom has basically taken control of three stations in the market and we urge the FCC to act on its ownership rules and revoke their broadcast licenses," said Adrienne Biddings, staff attorney for the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law.

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute represents the Media Council, which filed a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission last year.

Raycom officials had no immediate comment.

Details of the deal were only recently made public by the FCC after The Honolulu Advertiser filed a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the Media Council, those documents show that Alabama-based Raycom is getting more than 90 percent of the cash flow of all three stations.

The company also is responsible for nearly all of the operations at KGMB, KHNL and K5, including the stations' sales, news gathering, promotions and back-office support functions.

"(The documents) clearly show that the Raycom deal in Hawai'i is one of the most egregious violations of public trust and FCC rules," said Chris Conybeare, president of the Media Council.

Federal law bars media companies from owning two stations in the same market unless they obtain a waiver from the FCC.

In October, Raycom merged the newsrooms of K5 and local NBC affiliate KHNL with that of local CBS affiliate KGMB, resulting in the termination of a third of the stations' staff and the simulcasting of some news programs.

Raycom said at the time the deal does not require FCC approval because there's no change of ownership.

It also said the deal was needed to prevent one or two of the stations from going under as the local television advertising market had fallen by $20 million, or about 30 percent.

Revoking a broadcaster's license is a drastic step but Angela Campbell, director for the First Amendment and Media Law Project at the Institute for Public Representation, said there is precedent for such actions.

In 1980, the FCC stripped RKO General Inc. and its parent General Tire & Rubber Co. of its broadcast license for stations in Boston, New York and Los Angeles for pressuring companies to advertise with the television stations, making illegal campaign contributions and for bribing foreign officials.

Making misrepresentations to the FCC also can result in penalties, Campbell said.

In 1981, the Federal Communications Commission renewed the broadcast license of public TV stations KLRN in San Antonio, and KLRU in Austin, Texas, for just one year after it found that the stations' operator, the Southwest Texas Broadcasting Council, made misleading statements during its fund- raising campaign, according to The Associated Press.

"A lot of this depends on how serious the commission wants to be in enforcing the laws," Campbell said.

"But recently, they haven't been that serious and they have given waivers left and right."