When people hear immigrants denounced on radio call-in shows, or see violent assaults on immigrants on television or cinema, are they more likely to be violent themselves?
That’s the question a diverse coalition of faith groups will be asking next week as part of the 2009 Media Violence Fast, a movement now in its third year that signs up thousands of people from across the nation to consciously abstain from violence on television and radio, at least for one week.
This year’s seven-day emphasis, Oct. 19-26, is asking its interfaith participants to consider the impact of anti-immigrant hate speech in the media.
“We are asking people to seek other forms of programming and intellectual stimulation, and to reflect on what it means to purposefully distance oneself from violence as entertainment, especially hate speech against immigrants that is being billed as unbiased, ‘fair and balanced’ news,” says the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive director of the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc.
“There are a lot of shows on television and other media that depict violence as an acceptable and logical solution to serious challenges,” said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. “In fact, violence is almost never the answer to problems. Jesus made this clear in the Sermon on the Mount, and prophets and religious leaders across the centuries have echoed the message.”
Media programming that denigrates immigrants and others outside mainline society, or portrays violent acts against them, closes the minds of viewers to facts, Kinnamon said.
“Violence may be satisfying at some primitive level, but it almost always causes more violence and seldom leads to solutions,” Kinnamon said. “Media writers and producers would do well to remember that some of history’s most dramatic confrontations with power have been non-violent, including Gandhi’s Satyagraha movement against imperialism or Martin Luther King’s encounters with bigoted laws and people.”
The anti-violence fast is sponsored by the So We Might See Coalition, a diverse interfaith group formed earlier this year with support from the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Islamic Society of North America, United Methodist Communications, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and several other faith groups.
The PC(USA) is represented in the coalition by the Rev. Jerry Van Marter, coordinator of the Presbyterian News Service and chair of the NCC’s Communications Commission.
During the week, participants will be signing a petition to the Federal Communications Commission asking that it open a notice of inquiry into hate speech in the media.
The coalition is also urging the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) to update its 1993 report, The Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes.
“We are concerned about this issue because of the possible connection between hate speech and violent hate crimes and the lack of information for members of the public concerned about the issue,” said Guess, who is helping to staff the work of the Coalition.
Cheryl A. Leanza, a media attorney who serves as policy director with the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communications, Inc., emphasizes that the coalition does not support censorship, but is advocating a study by the federal government to track the impact of anti-immigrant speech on physical violence.
The coalition is expressing particular concern about the frequency and tone of anti-immigrant remarks made by several TV and radio commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and Lou Dobbs.
“Hate speech in the media is a growing problem that must be examined before it can be solved,” Leanza said. “The possible correlation between hate speech and violence crime gives us great pause. Immigrant, minority, and religious populations are often targets of hate speech before they are subsequently the target of physical hate crimes.”
According to the most recent FBI hate crimes statistics, while hate crimes against all other groups has been holding steady or attenuating, hate crimes against Hispanics have been increasing over the last four years.
The So We Might See Coalition’s decision to focus its third-annual fast on anti-immigrant hate speech comes in support of the Latinos Against Hate Speech campaign, organized by the National Hispanic Media Coalition.