“Malia Lt Blue Top Image”

At a time when media ethics are being questioned nationally, Hawaii is having its own debate over what media should accept and not accept in terms of gifts, freebees and compensation.

There is supposed to be a line between news, public relations and advertising, though that line often is blurred or removed all together, especially when it comes to the influence big advertisers and big government have over the media.

The debate over media “ethics” is now focused on KITV (ABC affiliate) because the management accepted two all expense paid trips to Japan this week for a reporter and cameraman sponsored by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. The HVCB wanted a Hawaii media to document Gov. Linda Lingle’s public relations effort and tourism recruitment effort in Japan. ”’The Honolulu Star-Bulletin”’ also was offered the deal, but declined. The general manager of KITV, after a number of negative press stories, said KITV would refund the money to the state.

But the subject did not drop there. Democrats took the opportunity to slam the governor. House Speaker Calvin Say said the HVCB should never have funded the trip, and blamed the governor for the media mess.

The governor’s chief of staff, Bob Awana, responded in a written statement from Japan saying he is “disappointed that the Senate President and House Speaker would knowingly make false statements.”

“The costs for the KITV news crew are the responsibility of the station and/or HVCB, and not the Governor’s Office. They are simply trying to distract the public from the real issues, which are the Governor’s efforts to promote Hawaii’s tourism, stimulate the economy, and exercise strict fiscal discipline,” Awana says.

Other media harped on KITV’s lack of ethics and in fact covered the fact they weren’t invited on an all expense paid trip as a news story.

Sure, KITV should have paid for its own trip, but the other media cannot throw the first stone. Hawaii media takes freebees all the time.

In the name of full disclosure, when I freelanced for Midweek, the U.S. Army paid for me to go to Ft. Polk in Louisiana to watch the men and women from Hawaii’s 25th infantry division prepare for a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.

But I was not the only one on an all expense paid trip to the muddy cold banks of Louisiana. KHON, KITV, KGMB and KHNL sent reporters and cameramen on the trip at the Army’s expense. ”’The Honolulu Star-Bulletin”’ also sent a reporter and cameraman. The only media not to accept the trip was ”’The Honolulu Advertiser.”’

In return, the military did expect positive coverage for Hawaii’s troops, which was given to them. Yes they deserved the positive coverage as the whole operation was impressive and captivating and Hawaii could be proud of its men and women in uniform.

But the military public relations officer was extremely strict with what questions could and could not be asked, and that put a big damper on interviews with America’s military leaders.

The main person being protected was Hawaii’s own General Eric K. Shinseki. Hawaii reporters on the trip, who were invited to a small reception and press conference at his home, were not allowed to ask him any questions relating to his job or the Sept. 11 terrorism attack on America and only could ask him personal softball questions.

The trip was well planned by Hawaii’s Army, but the mainstream in Hawaii’s media, with the exception of ”’The Honolulu Advertiser,”’ did accept a free trip and lodging and in fact, had plans to go to Bosnia on the Army’s dollar last August for two weeks.

So the bottom line is the only media with the right to criticize KITV for accepting the trip is ”’The Honolulu Advertiser,”’ as long as its editors and publishers were consistent in its policy not to accept big freebees.

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