Disclose to the State: Hawaii State Senator Introduces Bill That Requires Newspapers to Submit Annual Financial Reports to State Attorney General

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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. …