Coqui frog advocate Sydney Ross Singer claims Hawaii Public Radio is censoring a report from the Big Island about coquis that is being broadcast on public radio stations nationwide.
Singer, who operates the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Reeducation Project (CHIRP) with his wife and co-director Soma Grismaijer at their coqui frog "sanctuary" on about 60 acres near Opihikao, sent me the following e-mail today addressed as an "Open Letter" to HPR board chair Josie Bidgood:
Aloha Ms Bidgood:
This August, 2007, a story on the Hawaiian coqui, entitled, Oh, Coqui!, began airing on NPR stations across the country as part of a major public radio series, Stories from the Heart of the Land. The 20 minute piece shows the dynamics and complexity of this issue through the stories of residents affected by changes brought by the coqui, capturing the essence of this Hawaiian crisis. It is produced by NPR veterans Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister of Long Haul Productions, and funded by THE NATURE CONSERVANCY. The producers offered the story free of charge to Hawaii Public Radio, which has stated that the station is not interested in the story and refuses to air it.
This means that NPR stations around the country will air a story about Hawaii while Hawaii's local NPR affiliate will keep Hawaii listeners from hearing their own interviews and those of their neighbors.
This is CENSORSHIP. Over the years, HPR has aired numerous anti-coqui stories, with no mention of any pro-coqui support. HPR has completely disregarded CHIRP press releases, phone calls, and other efforts to balance HPR's one-sided, biased reporting. Now, HPR refuses to even air an NPR story on the coqui. The reason is because the story includes some comments from residents who have come to accept and appreciate the coqui. It is a balanced story, showing this is a controversial issue with more than one side. As a result, it does not fit into the strictly anti-coqui editorial bias of Hawaii Public Radio.
When it comes to the coqui, HPR is inflaming the public, not informing the public. This is the essence of propaganda and censorship, and should not be tolerated at HPR. It is a disservice to the people of Hawaii and to your listeners.
As you may know, the coqui frog cannot be eradicated from Hawaii. State and Federal agencies have cut funding for anti-coqui efforts, and have stated that the frogs are here to stay. This means that, despite the effort and expense of years of coqui control, the people of Hawaii will nevertheless have to accept the coqui as a new immigrant to our shores.
Change, of course, is difficult for many people, and the coqui is making some changes to life in Hawaii. But change is made easier when you hear how other people are dealing with the same situation. In this sense, the Oh, Coqui! story can be therapeutic for coqui-phobic residents who eventually must learn to accept the coqui in Hawaii. We ask that you reconsider your decision and agree to air this story for the benefit of the people of Hawaii, and for the sake of journalistic integrity.
Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer
I recommend you click on the Long Haul Productions link and listen to the audio report. You might wonder as Singer does why HPR won't air the piece, which seems well-balanced and interesting whatever your opinion of the frogs might be. It also includes lots of interviews with local people, many of whom you might know. I called and left a message this afternoon for HPR's news director, Kayla Rosenfeld, and still look forward to her response. If you are a subscriber, contributor or otherwise interested in what HPR airs, you might call and ask someone at the station yourself.
How truly shameful of HPR if what Singer reports is true.
Update on Monday, September 17, 2007 at 08:35PM by Hunter Bishop
Kayla Rosenfeld called me back at about 6 p.m. and strongly defended HPR's reporting on coqui frogs. She hadn't seen Singer's letter but was well aware of it, and she sounded a bit exasperated at having to answer the question. She denied that HPR was censoring the coqui story and said she'd listened to the piece in question and rejected it because it did not meet HPR's standards and was too long, requiring extensive editing to reduce to 3-4 minutes which is the length of most HPR pieces. She said the piece was more suited to a mainland audience because it was not "advanced" enough in its reporting on the frogs. She said HPR already has aired reports on both sides of the eradication issue with more depth than the Long Haul Productions piece had, and that HPR listeners would have questioned her judgement in airing it if she did. She also criticized the piece for featuring "only haoles" who mispronounced several place names. In summary, it's not censorship, she said, and HPR is not biased toward eradication. I confess I don't listen to HPR much so I don't have good judgement on the quality or frequency of its reporting on coqui frogs. But it did seem to me that Singer struck a nerve here.