The First Amendment; Minorities in the Media
As ex editors of the mass market weekly alternative newspaper We've been applauded by minority groups and castigated by them. We have used them for our journalistic purposes and have been used by them. We've made mistakes in dealing with them. We have done good works for them. We have misunderstood them and we've been misunderstood by them. What we can contribute to the discussion today are some reflections on that experience and some lessons to be drawn from it. The problem is really painfully obvious reflected in the title of this conference. There's a conflict between media that serve a mass audience and the journalistic needs of minority communities. On the face of it publications searching for a mass audience will reflect the values and interests of the mass unless otherwise manipulated by its editors will give relatively short shrift to coverage of an ethnic minority. At this gathering we are looking for standards for responsible mass media. But to whom are we supposed to be responsible.
To two readers to a publication circulation goals to our owners and publishers to advertisers. No the assumption of the this conference is that there is an affirmative obligation on the part of Mass Media to be responsible to ethnic minorities whatever that means for the journalistic and commercial success of the publication. Now the prevailing norm for mass market daily papers is to deal with ethnic minorities largely when they make news. That is when their members commit crimes get elected to office negotiate with the PLO or become a first as in the first black to be appointed to some position. The ethnic community is covered when it makes trouble by disrupting the life of the mainstream or by capitulating and joining it. What's missing of course is regular coverage of the affairs of the ethnic minority community as such. Thus both exposing the community at large to the day to day activities of the ethnic minority and
treating the members of the ethnic minority as part of the mainstream of life in the community. Current coverage of ethnic minorities is not satisfactory from either perspective. Take this Boston Sunday Globe the Boston Sunday Globe sells almost 700000 copies. That's a mass circulation but it's hard to look through a Sunday Globe and find deliberate efforts to reach any minority markets unless those markets seem to be people for whom there is going to be some commercial payoff for the paper. Thus the elderly politics freaks in confidential confidential chatters all have their special treatment in a sense of space devoted to their particular needs whereas blacks Native Americans and Hispanics do not. Why is that so. Would it be easier for the globe to hire a black reporter to cover black issues and write a column about black affairs. Sure it would. It isn't done because there's no apparent payoff for the paper in doing so.
The paper's looking for circulation increases in areas where blacks don't live and their advertisers are looking for readers who can afford to buy the buy their products. Targeting editorial copy to a group which is concentrated in urban areas and as a group is on the lower end of the economic ladder makes little commercial sense. But if it doesn't make good commercial sense doesn't it make good moral sense. Why isn't it done simply because it's the right thing to do. It's we suggest a couple reasons. First those people who would be especially committed to institutionalizing coverage of ethnic minorities the members of ethnic minorities themselves are rarely in a position to make such decisions. There are no senior management people at the Globe. The real paper for that matter who are black or Hispanic. Second institutionalizing such reporting would tend to create pressure for uncritical and positive coverage in a climate where adversary journalism is the order of the day. Or there's a
corollary to that which is that so many papers are afraid of the necessary adversary kind of journalism. Like but like the major dailies weekly alternative paper such as the real paper are targeted to and read frankly by a largely white middle class community which seeks little in the way of week to week coverage of ethnic minorities. One weekly alternative paper which did try to provide regular coverage in inner city blacks. A short lived paper called news works in Washington failed in part because the coverage of blacks in inner city life was not of sufficient interest to the more affluent white readers who supported their advertising. We found in addition that irregular coverage may be seen as worse than none at all. Whatever whenever we publish stories on conflicts within an ethnic minority community we were roundly criticized by those who came out worse in the story on the ground that it was irresponsible to write about such conflicts unless we were
providing regular coverage of that community. Yet we believe then as we do now that the quote bad news unquote within an ethnic minority community is fair game for coverage whether it involves shady real estate deals in Roxbury or attempts to undermine pro Cuban activity in the Hispanic community. In the long run the solution to the problem will be economic as the process of cultural absorption diminishes class differences and injects greater common interests. That is when I think minorities begin to have the buying power to catch the eyes of institutional interests. It has happened to the Irish after a long and painful history of discrimination. It has happened with Jews and it's beginning to happen with blacks. But such evolutionary solutions are unacceptably slow. Let's return to the questions raised earlier and answer them with an eye toward seeking acceptable ways of speeding up that slow evolutionary process. First should coverage of ethnic minorities be done only by ethnic minorities. We reject this on principle. I don't
experience assigning reporters with a vested interest in the stories they're covering has advantages and disadvantages both in what you get and how you're perceived. But the notion that only a black can understand a story that involves blacks makes no more sense than to say that only a Jew can write about Israel. Only a woman can write about a scandal at an abortion clinic. Second to sporadic coverage preclude coverage of quote bad news and quote. This is more difficult bad news stories are legitimate news but if stories involving an ethnic minority are only done occasionally and often when done cast members of that minority in an unfavorable light they're sure to be a negative reinforcement in the minds of the publications white readership. We would urge that publications who do not provide regular coverage of an ethnic minority community be very careful about what they do publish. Third do ethnic communities deserve some special consideration with respect to equal space for
reply. We think not. In that respect they stand in no different stead than any other person or group who feels wronged by the publication. If editors and publishers who are here today who read the transcripts of these proceedings are serious about meeting that obligation. Here are some specific suggestions which go beyond the modest affirmative action commitments if not practices of most major mass market publications. First hire minorities into decision making positions where their consciousness will affect publication policy rather than simply intrude into particular stories. Second allocate editorial space to such coverage either by percentage of total space no matter how modest or by institutionalizing such coverage as the globe once did for years. For example with a column on Jewish community life. Let us close by saying that this is not a chicken or the egg question. These are steps that could be taken by any publication represented here today or tomorrow. Those that don't should
decline to do so honestly openly and candidly. The only reasons for not doing so are short term economic ones. Our long term case is a bigotry. The second speaker is Maria Dowd who is a television producer and they see which translated I gather means it's complex. It's a bilingual program weekly on Channel Seven. Thank you very much. You know when we speak about minorities in relation to the mass media it's often assumed that we're referring to blacks and the media today as we begin the conference on responsible mass media and if the minority groups. I'd like to focus on the on one of the other minorities the Hispanic. To do that. Let me go back a bit.
Just think of this it's the purple pigeon nightclub and the band plays Carmen entered Leo as the evil money Mads and Hugh at the start of the Long as the real woman but she's in love with Johnny Powell in American Mr. Clean. That's OK. And you're just a drunk. Besides being rich and evil pays generous tribute to his rival calling Powell the best guy you know going to Mexico. So much for our chaos 1932 release of the girl of the real the hell with it in fact as well as we saw pre-war loop Eveleth potboilers cess hot pepper strictly dynamite or Mexican Spitfire. But if that stereotype has more or less been discarded the past 3 decades have unreal the seemingly inexhaustible run of bandits. He went thataway compass Enos hustlers addicts and
thieves in Latin drag. OK surely if you've got a sheriff a Cuban attorney or Puerto Rican accountant decided for reality's sake. Most Latinos seen that TV and film industry would agree. By and large the Latin screen image has improved only slightly. I borrowed this governments from the opening paragraphs of an article entitled Getting on the sit which appeared in western magazine in 1977 written by California writer and author of around us and although the article referred to movies and network TV productions it's really not that far removed from the reality of the local media. Newspapers radio and television and the relation to Hispanics. To this date stereotyping of Hispanics continues with US audiences as reporting topics and in all but a few cases as employees of the
media. Let's look at the statistics. In a state where the Hispanic population numbers close to 200000 persons we can still talk about the one Hispanic reporter in this major medium or the one in that other. Sadly there are less Hispanics to talk about in related areas such as sales engineering and the like. We do find quite a few Hispanics about 35 you know in public affairs and Spanish related activities. About half of these are in one radio station alone which of course caters to Hispanic audiences. It's just in the past few years that I think that the media has come to realize with the aid of the FCC and other such discriminating or maybe discriminatory agencies as well as civil rights groups and other concerned citizen groups that our viewers listeners and readers are peoples of all races languages and national origins with various needs and interests cultures and believes
as well as entitled to inclusion in every aspect of the media. Nevertheless And although blacks seem to have broken out of the typical Some of the at least some of the typical stereotyping access to the mass media by groups such as the Hispanic used to this day over a peripheral nature nature. Some years ago. You like Abel dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University said that the national news coverage of Latin America was the most shameful area of neglect in American journalism. The situation has somewhat changed as far as our international coverage of Hispanics but it really is dismaying to think that it was a chiller and we got our way. Or was it the oil boom in Venezuela in Mexico that brought to light the problems needs and assets of our southern neighbors as well as the inequitable relationship between the peoples of America. Throughout the day we will be participating in various panel discussions in an effort to
assess not only how responsible the media is or should be but how responsive it is to ethnic minority groups. We all have responsibilities of one kind or another. But it is how we respond to our obligations that's important. By and large responsiveness of the mass media to ethnic minority groups such as the Hispanic has been limited. With few exceptions to an ethnic sprinkling of the Sunday TV public affairs lineup or a once in a while article on such topics as of the most racial of a group of welfare mothers you know it not only applies to Hispanics because were it not for the beauty of the celebration of the Chinese New Years we'd never know we had such a large Asian community clearly responsible and responsibility of the media must go further. The kind that kind of responsiveness is really not enough. If it were we wouldn't be here today discussing the various aspects of the relationship between the mass
media and ethnic minorities. We must bear in mind though that when we speak of responsible mass media we must look beyond those involved in the day to day operations of the industry. Responsibility rests just as heavily on the community's governmental agencies and educational institutions. If the communities continue to accept stereotyping or other forms of prejudicial barriers. If governmental agencies continue to drag their feet in ensuring the rights of minorities. And if educational institutions continue to just barely meet equal education opportunity regulations. Twenty years from now we may still be discussing the hope of access to minorities in the mass media. The Hispanic-American particularly the present generation is uniquely suited to provide invaluable assistance given the opportunity in finding solutions to social racial and ethnic barriers prejudices and stereotypes which for so long have plagued this country. Without that opportunity
the small voices of our ethnic minorities will never blow the big trumpets. Thank you. Thank you Mr. The next speaker is John Cartwright a professor of social ethics here a Boston University. Thank you sir. In radio and television and especially in the latter the potential for affecting intergroup relations positively or negatively may be greater than in any other medium. At the present time I'm reminded of what was said by the director of The New York code office of the National Association of Broadcasters. He remarked that the presence in a television broadcast
of a cruel stereotype is so immediate in one's living room soul prevail. So an retrievable so shared. Coast to coast border to border s to be of enormous significance. So that the importance of television as a mass medium therefore has not been so much in what has been communicated to minorities as such or what has been communicated between minority group leaders and their followers. But in what has been communicated about minorities to the general public. Market changes in the policies of the mass media toward blackness especially you will remember occurred
about 1968. Blacks began to be seen in soap operas newscasts television commercials special features and primetime Productions. It was as though all of a sudden the media had discovered a people that had just come to the planet minorities are still not reflected in general in the everyday continent of general programming and commercials. Although there has been some improvement. This is harmful because the public sees the black or the Puerto Rican or the Chicano or whatever soley as perhaps a rioter or at best a social problem and not basically as a human being for the most part. Blacks are still limited to the
stereotype supporting and servant roles. The few programs which feature black performers treat them in such a nervous and unnatural manner as to make them seem hardly credible as human beings. I will stop them here. Thank you very much. Right next speaker is Miss Gloria who is editor of The Sam and producer of a TV program Asian focus. Less than 1 percent of the total population in ICT States. It is truly a small minority. And as you can tell as happened today often overlooked and perhaps that is the difficulty that those of us who are Asian American have and I look across this room and I think I with the exception of Patti back I don't see any other Asian-American faces here and perhaps that that too is a problem
that we're so under represented. And there are so few of us and yet the problems exist among Asian-Americans as minority people as they do with the blacks and with the Hispanics and with other Native Americans and other Asian and other minority peoples. Let me expand again about the problems of being Asian-American perhaps. It's so easy to lose us because we're considered the model minority or the invisible minority with cope so well. We have managed to succeed in the society at least that is the stereotype. Frank Chen is among the new vanguard of Asian Americans who is entering the field of rodding the very few Asian Americans who write because language has always been a problem. He's a novelist and a playwright and in essays he wrote very stunning play call chicken coop Chinaman. And he said white racism has had no greater success than with Chinese Americans because with mass popularisation of the stereotype through education in the mass media and on
all levels of writing. Over six generations it has managed to produce a Chinese-American character that is without an ego that has no self-respect that is internalized almost fatal suicidal doses of self-contempt. It is a race that has remained silent but has remained completely out of the mainstream of culture that only Chinese that appear in American culture are as a kind of debris. And I think French and refers to the stereotypes that we see in the movies the Fu-Manchu the Suzy Wong stereotypes the passive stereotypes that you see. Well straight types that you see in film and theater producers of films and theater say that. Well OK the excuse is that white people are depicted in degrading situations to Juanita barrister did a a research paper called Changing Asian-American stereotypes. Discussed that and she said producers of films and TV that blatantly parade
stereotypes have defended their creations by saying that white people are also depicted in degrading situations. That's true. But for every bad white image there are ten good ones to shift the balance. Whereas a single caricature of a white person is accepted as an exaggeration. A stereotype is often accepted as the whole and the complete truth about Asians. When is the last time you saw an Asian American on TV. When was the last time you were asked Oh how long have you been in this country are the other good men that I get asked a lot is oh how nicely you speak English. It's learnt it very well. It's important for me to tell you and remind you that Asian-Americans face these problems Frank chin is dealing with the Asian-American who's been here many generations and who is saying that this subtle institutional racism that exists has created an Asian-American person who no longer knows who he is and what he is
just currently and locally I might add that the health center the Mental Health Center in Boston Chinatown has also begun to diagnose some severe problems dealing with mental health problems among second and third generation Asian-Americans. So it is existing although it is like all things among Asian-Americans a very quiet thing covered up so well. Another point that is important to to bring out and I think this is very very important because right now we are getting a lot of news in the media about Asia about China about Japan about Korea. So I think that's important I'm glad we're we're having some of that information. But it is important that we recognize that there are Asian-Americans here and there are things asian asian asian that I am an Asian American and that I was born here. My mother was born here and my grandfather might've immigrated in the late 80s. But I'm Asian-American and that must distinguish me
from someone asian asian. A group of educators in New York City did a study of the media and as educators they recommended to the New York City Board of Education that quote the teaching of things Asian must be divorced from the teachings of things exotic. It is time that Asians are pictured and defined as having had a small but definite role in the building of a wealthy America. And I think that that's very important. As Mr. Cartwright said that the media has a very pretty vase of and a very strong influence as an informal education system that our perceptions of minorities are truly built upon by the story of stereotypes that exist in the media. I like to just quote one other in person a young man by the name of Tom Coghlan wrote a blasting blasting in a letter in Newsweek earlier this year. He is a Korean American who
lashed out. And said Stop stereotyping me. He said that there's an unspoken conspiracy that seems to exist in this country which whittled down the potential of Asian-Americans and that creates an ethnic group to fit a stereotype. He complained about the image that the Asian-American male has as meek humble submissive. He cried a lot. A fair and accurate portrayal he was not asking for anything more but a fair accurate portrayal of the aging American male. And I might plead with you today that that would exist for all Asian Americans he said and I think it's important to note that it is a waste and it is a crime against the human spirit which should not be tolerated. This racism the stereotyping we should not be tolerated. Least of all here in the United States. I think it's important for me to emphasize today to all of you because I see the that you are not Asian-Americans but you understand some of the story some of the concerns of Asian American people.
Just very quickly a chronology of some of the historical discriminatory legislation and laws that have occurred in this country. It scares me that I spoke to a young lady a few days ago who happens to be Chinese-American and we shared some concerns about being communicators and I mentioned the internment and she looked at me what internment. And I said you know the hundred and ten thousand Japanese-Americans who were interned in camps during World War Two. And she said really. And I it blew my mind. Here is someone who did not know her own culture and it's important I don't know how many of you out there know that 110000 Japanese-Americans simply because they were Japanese were put into camps. And we're watching in this country. I am from Hawaii where I do not know what it was like really to be a minority. It took me 21 years before I got to Boston and discovered what it was like. It was quite a shocking experience but it makes me perhaps more outspoken. It makes me more willing not to accept that minority status and maybe some of the problems that go
- The First Amendment
- Minorities in the Media
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- WGBH Educational Foundation
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- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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- This item is part of the Asian Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
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- To view the segment on representation of Asian Americans in the media, visit https://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-47dr84v0?start=1172.79&end=1711.
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- "The First Amendment is a weekly talk show hosted by Dr. Bernard Rubin, the director of the Institute for Democratic Communication at Boston University. Each episode features a conversation that examines civil liberties in the media in the 1970s. "
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- Chicago: “The First Amendment; Minorities in the Media,” 1979-11-20, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 28, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-47dr84v0.
- MLA: “The First Amendment; Minorities in the Media.” 1979-11-20. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 28, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-47dr84v0>.
- APA: The First Amendment; Minorities in the Media. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-47dr84v0