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April’s Akakū Fight Peaks Nov. 22.

October 28, 2010
Norm Bezane

“Wow, this is it,” he remembered thinking.

Offering a fresh perspective from years on the Mainland along with his extended experience on Maui, the president and CEO of Akakū: Maui Community Television observed that there is something really special here.

“There are places as beautiful,” said April, “but I think Maui brings out the best in people. Maui is just a different level of magnitude. It is so exceptional in every way.”

Article Photos

Jay April
President & CEO

“We have all these incredible people,” he said, “but we also have a backwater mentality. It is an interesting mix. A lot of people on Maui hole-up and stay in their little circles. Going to Lahaina from Upcountry is like going to the Mainland. People have lived here all their lives, but mostly stay in one place.”

In one location or not, 54,000 people with access to cable TV can view Akakū, the only local 24/7 TV station on the island—“and a bold one at that,” added April.

The CEO is now trying to preserve Akakū as we know it by beating back to put an end to what he calls “a beacon of free speech” by subjecting the access channels to competitive bidding.

“The lowest bidder would be able to take over these cameras and studio,” he said recently in his cramped office.

Under April’s leadership, Akakū has come into its own. In addition to cultural programming and complete coverage of Maui County Council sessions and select committee meetings, the channels have been filled this year with hundreds of hours of local election coverage.

In addition to debates, including a forum at ‘Īao Theater that offered live candidate interviews and three-minute summary statements by some 30 office seekers, Akakū has run 26 thoughtful interviews submitted by independent producer Jason Schwartz. He’s conducted in-depth interviews with everyone from Neil Abercrombie to Zeke Kalua.

In the last few years, Akakū has brought viewers live coverage of everything from the arrival of the first Superferry and last flight of Aloha to three days of rodeo activities— some via laptop computer or cell phone video.

Viewers can go to the Web and request a replay of any taped program, choosing from more than 560 videos submitted by some 150 active, independent producers all trained by Akakū. Click on a program segment and it goes up on an Akakū channel for island-wide viewing within a day—sometimes within minutes.

Akakū has also brought in high school interns who have interviewed Board of Education candidates. They even won a grant to produce a series of public service spots about driving called “Arrive Alive,” in tribute to talented Akakū staffer Na‘ilima Kane, who was killed recently in an auto accident.

But all this could change when the Akakū franchise is put out to bid Nov. 22, two weeks before Gov. Linda Lingle’s term ends.

April said that any operator—even one based on O‘ahu—could begin running Akakū. The lowest bidder would be able to take over the cameras and studio, and without a journalistic orientation, could stop accepting videos from producers who give a voice to a variety of opinions special interests might not like.

This holds the potential to curtail free speech, said April, since existing Akakū policy enables anyone bringing in a tape to express his or her point of view on any topic.

Due to competitive bidding procedures, Akakū was required to tour all comers through its facilities, show them their operating methods and open up their financial records—information that could be used to undercut Akakū’s own bid.

Legislators have unsuccessfully tried to end this practice in both 2007 and this year. April’s hope is that the next governor will allow the access channel to award the franchise strictly on merit.

Meanwhile, April encourages viewers to lobby government officials, and has been asking for donations from the public to sustain operations before a funding cutoff.

If Akakū can win the fight, look for more innovation using state-of-the-art equipment, including sophisticated Final Cut Pro editing software employed by its highly dedicated and talented volunteer staff.

In the works, Akakū plans to launch its own broadband Internet service.

What April wants to preserve is the mission symbolized by its Hawaiian name, “Akakū,” meaning “reflection in a mirror.”

“We want to reflect the beauty, creativity, politics and culture of the Maui Nui community across all four of our beloved islands,” the Akakū Website states.

Nov. 22 will be crunch time.



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