April 28, 2006

Hispanic Media Split On May 1 Boycott

By Elena Shore
New America Media

Although Hispanic media helped to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people in last month’s immigration protests, they are split when it comes to the economic boycott planned for May 1.

From Univision, which has prohibited its employees from publicizing the boycott, to KIQI La Grande 1010-AM in San Francisco, which is actively promoting it, Latino media are more ambivalent this time around.

According to the Mexican newspaper El Diario, based in Ciudad Juarez, Univision sent out an e-mail asking Spanish DJs and employees not to promote or mention the boycott, a move that other media see as acquiescing to the demands of their advertisers. Popular syndicated DJs like “El Piolín” on Univision’s La Nueva 101.9-FM in Los Angeles were critical in mobilizing large numbers of people in last month’s marches.

“It’s sad that Univision is not supporting the boycott because of their sponsors,” says Margarita Molina, general manager of La Grande 1010. “Univision is the most popular channel, and for them not to support a big movement like that is sad.”

La Grande 1010, she says, is the only station in the area that is actively promoting the boycott, including a 14-hour commercial-free radio marathon on May 1 to provide continuous coverage of the protest. In an advertisement for the radio marathon, the voices of protesters can be heard chanting “Sí se puede” (Yes, we can), the famous slogan of César Chávez.

Other media that supported last month’s marches, like Los Angeles-based La Opinión, the nation’s largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, are reluctant to back the boycott openly.

La Opinión has a historical role of promoting community participation, from voting to school politics,” says editorial page editor Henrik Rehbinder. “But the boycott is very risky. It’s not clear it will benefit everybody. It’s certain that it will hurt some people, that some people will be fired. If you are a dishwasher, a waiter or another unskilled worker, you may be replaced. As a media outlet, you can’t tell people not to go to work.”

Instead, La Opinión is calling for a day of action on May 1 in which people can make their own decision about how they will participate: whether that means boycotting or attending the marches and vigils after work, going to church or talking about immigration in school. “We are not going to encourage the boycott, but we are not opposing it,” Rehbinder says. “There are many different ways to participate and everyone has to be responsible and make the right choice.”

Others in the Latino media say they can’t afford to take a position.

Jonathan Sanchez, associate publisher of Eastern Group Publications, says his publication did not support the march or the boycott, and is critical of media that took an active role.

“It was radio primarily that pushed the envelope,” Sanchez says. “Radio stations are adding fuel to the fire, misleading people by the way they are reporting it. As media we don’t have any business promoting either way. I think it’s out of line to do that. But Spanish radio has that tradition.”

Spanish-language media has a history of defending its community, beginning with the first Spanish newspaper 151 years ago, says Jose Luis Benavides, journalism professor at California State University, Northridge. Founded June 19, 1855, El Clamor Público (The Public Outcry) advocated for the rights of Latinos, who made up the majority of the population of Los Angeles but were victims of violence, judicial bias and lack of political representation — many of the same issues they experience today, says Benavides.

In 1939 the newspaper El Espectador in the San Gabriel Valley helped organize a boycott against the local movie theatre Upland Theater that only allowed Mexicans to sit in the side aisles and balcony, writes Mario Garcia in his book Mexican Americans. The boycott was successful in integrating the theatre.

The paradox of Hispanic media today, Benavides says, is that despite its activist tradition, very little Hispanic media is now owned by Latinos. This is especially true in radio and TV, where large corporate-owned media may choose to side with advertisers.

If greater corporatization of media continues, Benavides says, we can expect to see more instances in which media may have to choose between activism and the economic bottom line. “But,” he adds, “if they move really far away from the community they are supposed to represent, then no one is going to watch them.”

“The peculiar phenomenon of Latino immigration,” according to an April 17 editorial in La Opinión, “has allowed for the development of a journalism that combines the commitment to the immigrant public with the Anglo search for objectivity.”

“There are principles of professionalism that demand a distance to ensure a level of objectivity,” writes La Opinión, “although there are certain situations that demand drastic action. The threat of the bill HR4437 is one of these cases, where one cannot simply be a spectator.”

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