What Diversity?

The watchdog group, Media Council Hawaii, thinks the recently announced merger of TV stations KHNL, KFVE and KGMB is illegal, and has retained the Institute for Public Representation (IPR) at Georgetown Law as counsel for its legal challenge.

Read about MCH’s arguments here. For all I know, MCH has a winnable case, but I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at MCH’s risk assessment, as far as the harm this merger will supposedly do to the public. MCH believes this merger will … “[r]educe diversity of opinion, create canned newscasts, increase advertising rates, strangle independent programming, and raise barriers to any who wish to enter the market. These effects are all contrary to public interest and the law.”

I’m sorry, but was there some diversity of opinion going on at our five local TV news outlets that I haven’t noticed? Can anyone tell me the difference between, say, KHNL’s stance on rail versus KGMB’s? Can anyone tell me what opinion any of the local newscasts has on anything?

I don’t know what “diversity of opinion” MCH thinks it will protect, or what “independent programming,” either. I’m sure this has happened to you—you’ve channel surfed back and forth between the local newscasts and found yourself hearing slightly different versions of the same story. The fact is, we have five TV news programs that all follow the same format now, and after the merger, we will have three TV news stations following the same format. I’m more disturbed by the “same format” part of that equation than I am the number of stations.

You know the formula: A nasty car wreck, and/or a murder, then a canned—yes, MCH, canned—Mainland or international news story (as if we didn’t get CNN or the Internet in Hawaii), then some weather reporting of Exaggerated Significance, followed by local high school sports coverage and, finally tonight, a story about a puppy or something.

I would love it if even one station would ditch this decades-old old format. Drop the sports, the weather, the canned Mainland stories, the puppy, and especially the highway carnage (people have been crashing their cars into each other for a century, making this, by definition, not news). Take all those talented reporters, producers and anchors—who are already working hard just to chase the same things the other four stations are chasing—and instead throw them at exactly one story per night. Big stuff is happening everyday and what do we get from our TV news? One minute on this, two minutes on that?

We need a TV newscast with the guts to say, “This is the single most important story you need to know about today and here is everything we could learn about how it affects you.” Break the mold! We can get data everywhere, what’s harder to come by these days is understanding. Be that station! The first station to try it would do  more to serve the public interest than anything the MCH will accomplish in fighting this merger.