PBS Teams Up with Hawaiian Access Group

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The proposed marriage of Oahu's public-access
corporation and Hawaii's public broadcaster has prompted fears in the
cable-production community that PBS has designs on channel capacity beyond these tropical
islands.

The merger would make a single, cable-funded entity of
'Olelo (as the Oahu County access corporation is known), the Hawaii Public
Broadcasting Authority and Hawaii Public Television Foundation. The parties announced
their commitment to join forces this summer as the best way to keep programming flowing.

'Olelo is funded by 3 percent of the total 5 percent
franchise fee collected by Oceanic Cablevision, a Time Warner Cable system -- a scheme
that raises about $3.4 million in operating revenue for the independent-access
corporation.

To date, the venture has built its own studio in
Mapunapuna, Oahu, to develop shows for five PEG channels, which some critics said are
underutilized.

But the funds collected are given to the state first, which
allocates them to the access corporation. Lately, the state Department of Education and
the University of Hawaii have lusted after a portion of that money, asking the state for
40 percent of the cash that currently goes in 'Olelo's pocket.

The public broadcaster, KHET, is also under pressure to
find replacement sources for current state funding by 2000. Its state support has already
been cut by more than 50 percent.

The deal would give KHET studio facilities and a part of
the public-access support money. 'Olelo would mate with a politically popular ally
and gain justification for retention of all of the access money, according to local
observers.

Gov. Ben Cayetano issued a statement declaring his
administration's support for the partnership.

"This merger will provide better public access of
information to the people at large," he said.

The state legislature must approve the merger, as both
corporations are regulated by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Ervin Duggan, president and CEO of PBS, who met with Hawaii
PBS officials shortly before the merger announcement, also expressed support, saying in a
prepared statement that he saw the merger as a "possible model for other communities
across the nation."

That's what riled the public-access activists, who
believe that the PBS stations wish to make a "full-fledged run at PEG capacity."

The way that Duggan has put down local access in various
forums during the past year is unconscionable, said Bunnie Riedel, executive director of
the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Community Media, an advocate for public access.

For instance, before the D.C. Cable Club late last year,
the PBS executive, in response to a question, said PEG channels are one of the most
"underutilized resources" in the country. He suggested that cable and PBS might
join forces to "rehabilitate" local operations, according to statements in the
trade press.

PEG producers are doing just fine on their own, thank you,
responded Riedel.

"Everyone likes PBS, but we have different
missions," she said, adding that local access' purpose is to be the local town
hall. "When was the last time you saw a county commission hearing on PBS?"

PBS takes its policy from local stations, and it is not
dictatorial, explained Stu Kantor, its director of corporate communications, speaking for
Duggan, who was traveling last week.

Duggan's past comments on public access should be
classified as "pointed observations, not meant to imply further action," Kantor
said. Further, the chairman spoke of public TV in general, and not just PBS.

No other stations have notified PBS of public-access
aspirations at the local level, he said.

Meanwhile, back in Hawaii, Oceanic Cablevision is little
more than a bystander, paying for the operation of the two entities and selecting two of
the board members for the access corporation.

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