I was invited to speak at Howard University about the lack of newsroom diversity and its negative impact on audiences at the Legal Digital Innovator Conference hosted by the Minority Counselor TV.
Here’s part of my presentation:
There’s a direct link between the lack of diversity in newsrooms and how it shapes the biased perceptions of who is a criminal…what is right and wrong.
Dr. Michelle Pautz, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton conducted a study which found films contribute to the political socialization of people (especially young adults)….what audiences watch and how certain institutions are portrayed over time can have very significant impact.
Like say for example, some absent-minded impresarios introduce a little fake news into the social media stream for monetary gain and according to critics unintentionally sway the presidential election in favor of a wild card candidate.
It might not be fake news, but media’s over representation of people of color as crime suspects and white people as victims shapes the perception of who is a criminal and influences policy on what is fair and just punishment.
The Sentencing Project, a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice issues, found that news reports about Black and Latino suspects were more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way…unnamed and in police custody.
You know how to dehumanize a person, strip them of their rights, silence them? You take away their identity…individuality…turn them into a statistic.
It’s easy to lock the door and throw away the key when the person is anonymous.
As the celebrated documentary 13th points out…slavery was replaced by incarceration as a system of controlling a group; largely by race.
Of the 2.3 million people in prison right now…a million are black?!
5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent away for drug offenses 10 times as many whites?!
C’mon now…this systematic imprisonment doesn’t happen without some serious collaboration from both sides of the political aisle.
The National Television Violence study evaluated almost 10,000 hours of broadcast programming from 1995 through 1997 and revealed that 61% of the programming portrayed interpersonal violence, much of it in an entertaining or glamorized manner.22
And that’s the lipstick on the pig, isn’t it?
It is sexy to be bad. Hollywood glamorizes criminals and violence. The good guys are the bad guys…the role models for youth.
For me, it was Tony Montana AKA Scarface, immortalized by the great actor Al Pacino. Montana is one of the most infamous fictional immigrants who unlike the many hardworking real life people, achieves the American dream only through violence.
That my friends is entertainment.
And it’s not just big movie studios producing must-see programming…anyone with a smart phone and a social media account is getting into the act.
Here’s a little bit of genius from a local police department in Florida:
Crime and punishment is the ultimate reality show creating caricatures of real people and getting their neighbors into the act of shaming.
What’s wrong with the picture below?
I’ve been in enough newsrooms to tell you the root of most of these flagrant biased at best, racist at worst editorial decisions are made because newsrooms do not reflect the communities they serve.
Although minorities (including black, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and multiracial populations) make up over a third of the U.S. adult population (35%), they make up only 22% of the local television news workforce.
(Pew Research Center, 8/2015)
The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), a not-for-profit group where I serve as a member of the Business Advisory Board commissioned a poll a few years back about how media shapes how non-Latinos’ view Latinos.
Their perceptions of Latinos reflect how media overtly portrays this community…uneducated, workers in the service industry, non authority figures.
Take me for example.
This is who I am…
-son of Peruvian immigrants
I once met an NBC colleague who looked at me and introduced herself like this:
My. Name. Is. Suzy Q. (not her real name so as to not shame her)
It. Is. Nice. To. Meet. You.
She spoke slowly so that I could understand her.
I responded, “Nice to meet you too. My name is Hugo Balta.”
She looked at me surprised and complimented me on my English, “Your accent is excellent!”
I said, “It should be. I’ve got 16 years of education under my belt. The only accent anyone has ever accused me of is a Jersey accent…Fogetaboutit.”
Now, that might seem like a comical microaggression, but it didn’t stop there.
“Where are you from?”, she asked.
“I’m from Jersey”, I asserted.
“No, where are you from originally?”, she asked again.
Because of course I can’t originally be from Jersey or the U.S.; I’m one of the “Others”.
See, microaggressions are like mosquito bites:
In the current political environment where journalists are being accused of producing fake news for just about anything which annoys the Trump administration and alternative facts are being presented as truths; it is crucial that media be fair and accurate.
That is only achieved when authentic, authoritative voices are included in the production of storytelling, discussions and debates. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve watched a news story about building a border wall with Mexico or the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants and it not include an expert (Mexican or Latino) who is part of the community being discussed.
It is often the disenfranchised who are the targets of propaganda blaming them for the economic and societal ills of a country
Calling them “illegals” isn’t just a derogatory term and inaccurate. It is a means to discredit and abuse a group of people; prevent them from getting a seat at the discussion table about issues which directly affect them.
A few weeks back airports across the country were in chaos as President Trump tried in vain to push his executive order temporarily banning visa travel from six Muslim-majority countries and the suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
While protests are a constitutional right, it was the lawyers who came to the rescue.
Attorneys engage, educate and empower the community to take action that has the potential to be effective for the long run. It might not have the Wow! factor and immediacy of protests (of course there is value to that), but ultimately it is more successful in generating real change.
Here’s the last point I will leave you with which illustrates the need to change media’s continuing negative narrative of minorities in news, television programs, films, etc.
When the innocent make quick decisions about good and bad, right and wrong based on the color of skin…something is broken.
People aren’t born racist. They’re raised to be racist.