August 3, 2007

Commentary:

Revamp the Fairness Doctrine – Equal time in the media is needed

By Alex Nogales

Conservatives are decrying any talks of bringing back the Fairness Doctrine. It’s an attack on our first amendment rights, they say, the liberals want to muzzle us. That is bogus. The Fairness Doctrine which was made moot during Reagan’s Administration required broadcasters to offer competing viewpoints in a balanced manner when presenting controversial issues. There are compelling reasons why Latinos and others are demanding a version of the Fairness Doctrine.

Hate Speech is on the increase and promoted daily on radio and television. The radio shock-jock format enthralls an audience that seems to enjoy the malicious rhetoric spewed by DJs that target people for their ethnicity, color of skin, religion, sexual orientation, or any other distinctive characteristic. A preferred target is the undocumented Latino. To hear hate speech DJs you would think undocumented workers are to blame for all of society’s ills. Like in a mob, the hate speech audience gets invigorated by the ugly one-sided hate speak that attacks without regard to veracity and provides no fairness, equal time or right of response to the injured party.

The father of television hate speech, as far as Latinos are concerned, Lou Dobbs of CNN claims to be a journalist while editorializing and making assertions, true or untrue, to drive home his points. He incorrectly attributed the increase of leprosy to undocumented immigrants and then erroneously stated that one third of the inmates in the federal prison system are undocumented immigrants, the number is actually 6% of the prison population. When Dobbs invites the other side, he manipulates the conversation, attacks and speaks over his guests to the point that Latino leaders have decided that it is counterproductive to participate.

Regrettably, Dobbs is not the only promoter of hate speech. Earlier this year, under the offensive name, “La Cuca Gotcha,” a reference to catching cockroaches, “Jersey Guys” a radio show in New Jersey asked its audience to turn in illegal immigrants who live in the state to federal authorities. In New York, the Chinese, women and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender communities came together to demand tolerance and respect after the CBS radio show “The Dog House JV and Elvis” aired a six-minute segment of their prank call to a Chinese restaurant using language demeaning and insulting to Asian Pacific Americans, women, and the gay community.

Hate speech not only affects Latinos but it affects all Americans, turning us one against the other. It encourages bigotry, makes it acceptable, and emboldens the extremists among us to take action against those who are least able to defend themselves. The Anti-Defamation League has issued two reports documenting that hate crimes against the Latino immigrant population has become the primary focus of hateful and racist rhetoric and extreme violence. And the violence isn’t just against the undocumented; it is also against documented Latinos and citizens because no one can tell one from the other.

Conservatives clamor that reviving the Fairness Doctrine is about Liberals wanting to stymie them. We don’t know the politics involved, but we do know that Latinos and other marginalized groups are being maligned day in and day out because media owners allow it to go on. Hate speech boosts station ratings and higher ratings generate more advertising revenue. It is shameful that our nation should be subjected to such crass and divisive behavior because it pays off.

Our organization has asked Congress to request an update of the 1993 National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Report to Congress: “The Role of Communications in Hate Crimes”. We expect the report will document that there is a direct cause and effect to violence generated by what radio and television is broadcasting. We see it anecdotally. The report, however, will take a year and a half to complete. In the meantime, we ask you to join us in standing up against hate speech. Demand that the owners of the radio and television stations that allow this kind of programming stop it. Discussion on any subject and issue is important but discussion should never deteriorate to one-sided bigoted attacks. Hate speech dehumanizes the targeted population and empowers those that hate to turn violent.

Let’s recall a basic premise. We the people own the airwaves. We the people demand that broadcast licensees who profit from our airwaves use it responsibly and seek to provide varied points of view. Only then can Americans be part of meaningful dialogue and together reach consensus. It is the American way.

Alex Nogales is the President & CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. NHMC is a 21-year old non-profit civil rights and advocacy organization created to 1) improve the image of American Latinos as portrayed by the media; 2) increase the number of American Latinos employed in all facets of media; and 3) advocate for media and telecommunications policies that benefit the Latino community. For more information go to www.nhmc.org

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