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Disclose to the state: Hawaii state senator introduces bill that requires newspapers to submit annual financial reports to state attorney general.

Hawaii state senator introduces bill that requires newspapers to submit annual financial reports to state attorney general

THE PRESIDENT OF the Hawaii Senate has introduced a bill that would require all newspapers to submit an annual financial report to the state attorney general.

The bill by Sen. James Aki, which was drafted by "anonymous request" gives no reason for the requirement. A similar measure has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Speaker Joseph Souki.

The two proposals closely followed the defeat in committee of a bill by Rep. Henry Peters that would have forced all print and broadcast employees to file financial disclosure statements if they produce news stories or set editorial policy.

Aki's recent Senate Bill 1756 would order newspapers to submit a form revealing their assets and liabilities, all sustained losses, expenses and taxes paid (including all compensation paid to each officer, editor and publisher), gross earnings, undivided profits and dividends paid.

Failure to submit the figures by Feb. 1 would subject a newspaper to a fine of $100 "for each day the reports are delayed."A 45-day extension could be granted by the attorney general.

The bill makes a point of noting that "newspapers" include those under a "joint newspaper operating arrangement" a reference to the Hawaii Newspaper Agency (HNA), the JOA agent for the Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser, Hawaii's biggest newspapers.

"We've had bills like this brought out before that were beaten, but what makes these ominous is that they are authored by such prominent legislative leaders" HNA general executive John E. Simonds told E&P. "I expect their bills to be treated with more deference in both houses. We have to take this legislation seriously"

Aki did not return E&P phone calls but Souki, in an interview, defended his bill, saying, "I don't see why newspapers should not be held to the same standard as public officials. Newspapers occupy a high position of trust in our society. People rely on them for information. They should be accountable."

Asked why no other businesses were included in his measure, Souki replied, "Maybe we can include some others but newspapers are not like other businesses. They wield a profound influence."

He declined to reveal who requested his bill.

Jeffrey Portnoy, an attorney' for the Advertiser who is representing HNA in opposing Aki's and Souki's bills, said, "There is a lot of antagonism in this state against major newspapers. Every time there is an editorial attacking a politician, there is a cry to break up the JOA."

Portnoy said there is "more steam shooting up this time" because of the recent sale of the Advertiser to the Gannett Co.

"They [legislators] have the idea that newspapers are making so much money that they should be required to file financial statements. This would have a chilling effect and is silly besides. What is .the purpose of the bills? What is the attorney general supposed to do with the financial reports when he gets them?"

The attorney also pointed out that the bills are discriminatory in that no other businesses are required to file financial statements with the attorney general.

Portnoy said that under state law legislators may introduce bills without listing the real sponsor or requester. Souki's bill also was submitted by "anonymous request."

The lawyer did note that Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi "has tried to break up the JOA for the last 20 years" and has made known his antagonism toward both the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin..

As disturbing as Aki's and Souki's bills are, according to Simonds, Peters' effort was even more threatening to the First Amendment. Simonds said the bill "slipped in with little notice" and was discovered by the media just as the House's finance committee was about to begin hearings on it. The committee. killed the measure by a 16-0 vote amid strong opposition by print and broadcast media.

In addition to the disclosure by the media employee, Peters sought the "financial interests" of the individual's spouse and children. Under the bill's provisions, any publisher, editor, producer or reporter "involved in the formulation or production of news stories for that business" Or who "endorses or expresses support for or against any candidate or ballot question or issue" would have to file a financial statement.

In a preamble to the measure, Peters said, "The First Amendment protection of the media, while extremely broad, does not confer an absolute right to report news without responsibility .... Like elected officials, media owners, editors, producers and reporters could have financial interests which tilt their objectivity."

Among those who testified in favor of the bill before the finance committee was William Bulger, president of the Massachusetts Senate.

A Feb. 18 Advertiser story by Kevin Drayton quoted Bulger as saying that press power must be limited.

"The press can terrify people," Bulger was quoted further. "There's nothing more intimidating than a hostile press."

Advertiser editor Gerry Keir called the bill an unconstitutional attempt to stifle freedom of speech and the press. He noted that such a financial disclosure is not required of any other Hawaii citizen.
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Title Annotation:James Aki
Author:Stein, M.L.
Publication:Editor & Publisher
Date:Mar 6, 1993
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