Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hate speech rises in the media

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by Joe Torres, Stop Big Media

For many people of color, fighting against our nation's media system is a matter of life and death. Too often, the media have contributed to the racial divisions that still exist in this country by marginalizing people of color in its coverage.

A major reason why this division exists is because people of color do not control the mass dissemination of their own images. Few people of color work in our nation's newsrooms, and fewer own broadcast stations.

People of color make up more than one-third of the U.S. population but own just 3 percent of all local TV stations and 8 percent of radio outlets. Journalists of color make up only 13.5 percent of all newsroom employees working at daily newspapers and 19 percent of the local TV newsroom work force. As a result, stories about people of color are often told by journalists who know little about these communities.

Look Who's Talking About Latinos

It should come as no surprise that coverage of immigration, especially on talk radio, is often hard to categorize as anything but hateful. Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage are among the major culprits who routinely demonize Latino immigrants on their programs.

On cable TV, CNN host Lou Dobbs has used his show to crusade against undocumented immigration. More than 70 percent of his programs in 2007 discussed the issue, according to the watchdog group Media Matters.

But Dobbs has had plenty of help from his cable compadres. Bill
O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have discussed undocumented immigration on 56 percent and 28 percent of their programs, respectively, almost always with an anti-immigrant slant.

The news networks have reinforced the idea there is little to know about Latinos outside of immigration. For years, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has documented in its annual "Network Brownout" that Latinos make up less than 1 percent of the more than 12,000 news stories that air each year on the network evening news. Undocumented immigration and crime were the dominate focus of those stories.

The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment has impacted the Latino community immensely. A Pew Hispanic study released this week found that 1 in 10 Latinos have been stopped by the police or authorities and asked about their immigration status. Half of Latinos surveyed said the situation for Latinos has gotten worse over the past year due to concerns about deportation and discrimination in other areas of their lives, like finding jobs and housing.

Talk Radio Fuels Hate Crimes

Many Latinos believe that talk radio and anti-immigration news coverage has fueled the increase in hate crimes. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that while hate crime statistics are not reliable, all available data indicate a surge in violence against Latinos. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Latinos shot up by 35 percent from 2003 to 2006.

SPLC also reported in 2007 that the immigration debate has increased the number of hate groups more than 40 percent hike since 2000, to 888 today. In addition, about 250 nativist groups have been founded in the past few years, driven by the immigration debate.

The Anti-Defamation League and SPLC report that nativist groups increasingly appear on news programs as legitimate anti-immigration advocates, even though many have spouted conspiracy theories on the air – such as the claim that Mexicans want to take back the Southwest for Mexico.

"This kind of really vile propaganda begins in hate groups, makes its way out into the larger anti-immigration movement, and, before you know it, winds up in places like 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' on CNN," says Mark Potok, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project.

Latinos Fight Back

It is a difficult fight for Latinos and other people of color to challenge large media conglomerates to improve their coverage of communities of color and to get the hate speech off the airwaves. Many of these talk show hosts are extremely popular and have a large following.

But Latino groups have been fighting back. The National Council of La Raza has launched the Web Site, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund has created to monitor and denounce hate crimes and hate speech. Meanwhile, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and its allies are strategizing how to combat speech via a campaign at

In addition, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has called on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to update a 1993 report on the role of telecommunications in hate crimes.

Why Media Policy Matters

Media consolidation and media policy matters in this fight. As more companies own what we watch and read, it has made it harder for people of color to gain access to the airwaves and to speak for themselves without any gatekeepers.

A study conducted by the Center for American Progress and Free Press last year found that 91 percent of conservative radio talk shows aired on 257 news/talk stations were owned by just five companies. Meanwhile, minority-owned stations were far less likely to air conservative talk shows.

It is critical for people of color to gain access to the means of communications that will allow them to speak for themselves without the permission of gatekeepers. To accomplish this, the voices of people of color must be heard in the halls of Congress and at the FCC calling for legislation to increase minority media ownership and low power FM stations, to put the "public" back into public media,

Additionally, people of color must urge lawmakers to make sure the public has affordable broadband access and fight to maintain a free and open Internet that is available to everyone.

While it won't be easy for people of color to hold the FCC, corporate media and media personalities accountable for their actions, facing daunting challenges is nothing new for communities of color. It is a struggle, however, we must win for the good of our communities and for the good of our nation.

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