Don’t Mess with Akaku

State asked not to interfere with public TV.  

By Catherine Cluett 

“What is really going on here?” asks Dan Emhof, Special Projects Coordinator for Akaku: Molokai Media Center, addressing fellow Molokai residents, the Governor’s Advisory Council, and Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) representatives. Emhof testified against state involvement in public acces television at a hearing last Tuesday on Molokai set up by the DCCA to get feedback from the Molokai community about the bidding process, or request for proposal (RPF), that Akaku, the public access television station for Maui County, has been mandated to participate in.

The hearing was hosted by the Governor’s Molokai Advisory Council, who invited the DCCA to coordinate their Molokai visit with the Council’s monthly meeting. Glenn Chock, Program Specialist, and Laureen Wong, Staff Attorney, attended the meeting as DCCA/CATV representatives.

“The DCCA is the agency that set up Akaku to be what it is today: an entity free and protected from corporate and government influences to do just one thing: serve the people and provide them with a voice through access to media,” continued Emhof. “Why am I forced to provide my heartfelt testimony to the DCCA in hopes that what Akaku is, and all that it’s done for this community, won’t be dismantled and torn down, by the DCCA, and given to another entity?” 

“The use of procurement violates the original Legislative Intent of Public, Education, and Government (PEG) access,” stated Linda Puppolo, the Administrative Services Director for Akaku, in her testimony. “Nothing in the procurement code is applicable to PEG designation.”

“I would like the committee to ensure that points awarded for the RPF for ‘Maui Community Television’ be awarded based on two thirds experience in the Maui Community and one third on experience with television,” said Sam Epstein, Executive Director of the Maui Media Lab Foundation, in his testimony concerning rules for procurement. “Anyone can buy industry experience,” he added. “Local experience cannot be bought.”

Epstein says the Maui Media Lab Foundation is “strongly considering” putting in a bid to be one of the competitors against Akaku for PEG access in Maui County. He emphasized in his testimony that the Maui Media Lab Foundation represents a good example of the type of community involvement he stressed as important to take into account in the bid selection process.

A Task Force has been formed by the State Legislature to explore alternatives to procurement, for which the DCCA provides administrative support, according to Clyde Sonobe, a Cable Television Administrator of the DCCA. “All Task Force meetings are held on O‘ahu, but video conference participation is available on Maui, Kaua‘i and the Big Island,” he says.

The Task Force has not held hearings on islands other than Oahu, and Akaku says they have been denied a video conference feed at the meetings to provide Maui County with access to the proceedings.

Molokai resident Patricia Hammond says she called the DCCA to get more information and they said they had nothing to do with the alternative-to-procurement meetings. “That’s the Task Force,” she says they told her.
“But the Task Force isn’t even coming to Molokai,” explained an exasperated Hammond in her testimony. “It sounds like this meeting is happening after fact.”

“I believe that this hearing to make rules for procurement is premature and extremely disrespectful to Task Force members studying alternatives to procurement,” said Puppolo. “They have not concluded the study and there may not even be a need for these rules if an appropriate alternative is agreed upon.”

About a dozen Molokai residents testified in favor of Akaku’s continued service to the Molokai community.

Frances Feeter emphasized the opportunities for youth that Akaku presents in its educational functions. “Young people see TV and with Akaku, they can do it themselves,” she said.

“Learning about communication and participating in the community is an important aspect of learning,” said Howard Selnick, a teacher at Molokai Middle School. He spoke in support of Akaku’s video programs in Molokai schools.

Charleen Tinao credits Akaku with getting her son off the streets through film-making education. He went on to make a documentary film on alcohol abuse.

“If it wasn’t for Akaku, people wouldn’t know about Molokai,” said Anakala Pilipo Solatorio. “It’s real people and real words you don’t get on any other channel.” He also said Akaku is the only way for him and many other Molokai residents to access county meetings held off of Molokai.

The DCCA did not allow the public to ask questions of the testifiers, nor did DCCA representatives answer questions regarding the procurement process at the hearing.

Akaku is a Public, Education and Governmental (PEG) organization that is funded by cable subscriber fees, three percent of which go into a fund to support Hawaii’s public access stations. The RFP could allow for an entity other than Akaku to take over public access, and Akaku says it the process might jeopardize its founding principles: providing a voice to the community.

Akaku is one of four public, education, and government (PEG) access organizations in Hawaii, and services the County of Maui. The private non-profit was created by the State of Hawaii in 1993 as a brand for public access, and has maintained close associations with the community ever since.


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