In a world striving for media accountability and freedom of the press, Media Council Hawaii (MCH), formerly named Honolulu Community Media Council, has stood as a touchstone for more than 44 years. In response to the banning from City Hall of a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter by then Mayor Frank F. Fasi, the Reverend Claude DeTeil approached the editors of Honolulu's two major dailies and a representative from the Mayor's office to resolve the situation. Each in turn suggested the idea that had been taking root on an experimental basis in six mainland cities--the press council. After gaining the support of Jim Richstad, a University of Hawaii journalism professor, and Harlan Cleveland, the university's President, DeTeil brought together more than a hundred community members and media representatives the Community-News media Conference to discuss the idea. After a successful event, thirty-three men and women joined in pushing for a press council for Honolulu. Following months of planning, on November 16, 1970, the fledgling organization took form. Heading the Council was a man who gave instant credibility to the new organization--Judge Robert Corbett, considered the father of the family court system. Jim Richstad served as the Council's first Executive Director. Almost immediately, the young group took a stand calling for the state's Governor to conduct more regularly scheduled press conferences.
MCH's push for greater press freedom would again focus on the ban of yet another Star-Bulletin reporter by Mayor Fasi, Despite availability of the Council as a mediation resource, the newspaper and the Mayor instead resorted to the courts to settle their differences. When Fasi subsequently banned a reporter from the Honolulu Advertiser, yet another suit was filed. Though its attempt to file a friend of the court brief in the latter case failed, the MCH language regarding standards for new conferences found it's way into the final decision.
MCH also has worked to keep bias out of the media. As the reporting of political polls became more crucial in local races, MCH created standards for the methodology underlying political polling and for the reporting of results.
In response to a complaint by a journalist that the University of Hawaii's Board of Regents was making key decisions behind closed doors, MCH called for more access for the media to its decision-making meeting. Rebuffed by the Regents on its recommendation for more openness, MCH would later take an active role in the 1974 passage of Hawaii's "Sunshine Law," which mandated open meetings for government proceedings. MCH would also make a commitment to track legislative attempts to limit media access.
In 1975, Jim Richstad resigned as Executive Director and was replaced by Ah Jook Ku, 65, who would serve in that position for the next quarter-century. MCH was less crucial to the effort to open up access to judicial proceedings through cameras in the courtroom. Supported by the Chief Justice, of the Hawaii State Supreme Court, the effort proceeded with MCH's efforts relegated primarily to the role of sponsor of community forums on the topic.
Media Council Hawaii would also play a prominent role in the passage of open records legislation in 1988. For MCH, the open records legislation proceeded logically from its efforts to secure open meetings. The resulting legislation would establish the Office of Information Practices, which over the years has opened government records to the new media, helping to keep the public informed.
With more than 100 mediations in its history, the Council has helped arbitrate complaints by and against politicians. Not surprisingly, Mayor Fasi, would play prominently in the mediations, including one against him filed by the City Council Chair, and later one filed by him over newspaper coverage during a failed attempt to get elected Governor. MCH did not shy away from disputes between the powerful, looking in 1988 at a dispute between Kamehameha Schools, supported by the state's mote powerful private land owner, and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, then owned by Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain. Unlike the actions supporting media access, the findings of newspaper shortcomings would cause friction between the media and MCH.
The friction would result in the resignation from the council the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser when the Council decided to take a look at the quality of the local print and broadcast media in its publication State of Journalism in Hawaii. The first part, published in October 1991, focused on the two Honolulu daily newspapers, namely the Honolulu Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The second part, published in September 1992, looked at the three daily local television news shows in Honolulu on stations KHON, KITV, and KGMB. An annual award for excellence in journalism given by the Council was named posthumously for the editor and main proponent of the study, Fletcher Knebel.
The dual role of MCH as a watchdog of the media and watchdog for the media would be seen when Gannet attempted to close the 118-year-old Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1999. In an attempt to preserve editorial voices in Hawaii, MCH sponsored community forums and provided some of the foot soldiers in the "Save Our Star-Bulletin" efforts that eventually resulted in the continued operations of two major daily newspapers in Hawaii. MCH would also take a stand against ownership of two of the largest television stations in Hawaii by Emmis Communications.
Mayor Frank F. Fasi, whose dispute with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin served as the catalyst for the formation of Media Council of Hawaii in 1970, announced after his defeat in 2004 that he ran in his last race for Mayor of City and County of Honolulu at age 84. But for MCH, the work continues, for the issues of media accountability and press freedoms continue to be central to society.