OHA Votes Down Proposal to Buy KGMB

OHA Trustee Rowena Akana
OHA Trustee Rowena Akana
Professor John Hart
Professor John Hart

HONOLULU (KHNL) - The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is no longer exploring the purchase of local television station KGMB, which had raised concerns about potential government control over the locally owned media outlet. But at least one trustee still wants to pursue the idea at the next board meeting.

Trustee Rowena Akana was one of two who voted in favor of allocating $50,000 to complete due diligence to see if the station was worth buying. The other was Trustee Oswald Stender. Akana says it's a good idea because, "To fund all the programs we do, and to continue to do that, you have to make money at something."

In opposition were Trustees Donald Cataluna, Linda Dela Cruz, John Waihee IV and Chairperson Haunani Apoliona. Excused from the meeting were Trustees Boyd Mossman, Colette Machado and Dante Carpenter.

Founded in 1978, OHA is a quasi-state agency created to help Hawaiians. It receives revenue from ceded lands - those lands controlled by the crown and government when the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown in 1893. That revenue will be $15 million this fiscal year.

Another reason to buy a t-v station is, explains Akana, to have some media control. "The Hawaiians have never been able to tell their story. That's not to say we'd try to control any content."

Instead, she says, OHA could change the format of local t-v news. According to Trustee Akana, none of the board members at the meetings said anything about using the t-v station as a propaganda tool."

Media watchers are concerned about the idea of a state controlled media outlet. Professor John Hart teaches media ethics at Hawaii Pacific University. "The media could be used by the government to influence people as a propaganda device."

That goes against American tradition. "The government taking your money to persuade you what to do, is going to send lawyers to court."

But Akana insists that's not the goal. "It's not a matter of buying a station so that we can flood the state with our perspective on things. That's absolutely not the agenda. We can already air programs on local cable access station 'Olelo if we wanted to do that."

She's going to bring it up with the budget committee chair at the end of July. KGMB's owner,  Emmis Communications Corp., would not confirm OHA's interest in buying the station. She says its policy is to not comment on pending sales.

It's been reported that Honolulu's local CBS affiliate generates about $3.2 million in net income a year. Akana notes, KGMB's 41,000-square-foot offices on Kapi'olani Boulevard is located on prime real estate, which could be redeveloped into a high-rise office or condominium building.

Emmis Communications put KGMB on sale last year when it announced that it was getting out of the television business. Emmis sold sister station KHON-TV earlier this year to California-based Montecito Broadcast Group and has said it plans to complete the sale of KGMB by the end of the year.