Monday, January 31, 2005

The New Media Police: II

The temperature is rising at Hot 97, the New York area radio station that on January 21 broadcast a musical parody that mocked South Asian tsunami victims, using racial slurs "chink" and "Chinamen," and calling drowned victims "bitches." The offending bit, called the "Tsunami Song," was broadcast during Hot 97’s "Miss Jones in the Morning" show.

The subsequent fallout has been severe, but -- many argue -- not severe enough. In the immediate aftermath of the public controversy, station manager John Dimick issued an apology saying that the show’s seven-person staff “has agreed to contribute one-week's pay to the tsunami-relief efforts."

Was this enough?

Many were dissatisfied with Dimick’s act of contrition and began an effort, led in part by hip-hop blogger “Jay Smooth,” to pressure advertisers to boycott the station; they inundated station advertisers with calls, emails and faxes. At least three, including McDonald's and Sprint, have temporarily pulled ads from the offending program -- leading the president of Hot 97’s parent company Emmis Radio, to issue a statement saying, "No company advertising on our station had any connection to the 'Tsunami Song'.”

Was this enough?

The station took a further step placing the show’s team on "indefinite suspension." Hot 97 assistant program director E-Bro said that the program’s lead DJ, “Miss Jones,” has become the target of "a media smackfest.” On Friday, about 100 students, Asian rights activists, local politicians and others assembled outside the Station’s West Village offices to call for the heads of the Miss Jones and her sidekick Todd Lynn.

Was this enough?

For her part, Jones has apologized for "my poor decision to go along with playing" the song, though she denies having anything to do with its creation. Where does the buck stop, then?

Had its listeners remained silent, Hot 97 likely would have done nothing. More and more Americans are taking media abuses into their own hands. This incident follows other recent actions, including the public outcry in Philadelphia, after Clear Channel-owned WUSL broadcast a "prank call" during which a DJ called an Indian customer service representative "a filthy rat eater." Elsewhere, Chicago radio “talent” Joel Murphy, aka "Java Joel" was fired from Clear Channel-owned WKSC after he talked on air about adopting "three black kids" and "taking them to the zoo to see where they came from."

Last year, we saw effective mobilizations to stop Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to broadcast a blatantly anti-Kerry documentary just weeks prior to the election. Another coalition, of which is a member, began a public campaign to pressure Sinclair to provide more balanced news programming or face a possible advertiser boycott campaign. And right bloggers took up the cause to send Dan Rather packing after CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast a segment featuring the now infamous memo on Bush’s military service.

For better or, in some cases (read Parents Television Council), worse, these campaigns have put broadcasters on notice that a listening and watching public stands at the ready.

But is an Internet energized public -- capable of using weblogs, forums and emails, to watchdog such media infractions -- enough?

Here’s something more they -- you -- can do. When it comes time for offending stations to renew their broadcast licenses with the Federal Communications Commission -- which grants them free access to our publicly owned airwaves – the public can demand that stations demonstrate that they provide programming in exchange for our spectrum that serves us all. This “public interest obligation” is vaguely defined as yet, I know, but it’s fair to say that a pattern of racist content does not qualify -- and should form reasonable grounds for yanking a station's over-the-air privileges.

Of late, an industry-friendly FCC has churned out license renewals with little regard for grantees' past performances. Beyond complaining via emails to the station, listeners can become more involved in the license renewal process -- by filing “petitions to deny” -- and forcing stations to prove their mettle as worthy stewards of our airwaves. (Unfortunately, this opportunity comes around only once every eight years; a circumstance that would change with the passage of newly proposed legislation). Nevertheless, if a station proves such outrageous disregard for its viewers, then their slice of the spectrum can be turned over to another broadcaster who holds us all in higher regard.

= = = = =
Feb 2 Update:

The Axe Falls : Emmis Communications announced the termination of morning show personality Todd Lynn and producer Rick Delgado, effective immediately. Emmis will also make a lump-sum donation of $1 million to Give2Asia to aid the organization in its Tsunami relief and recovery effort. Other members of the morning show crew -- Miss Jones, DJ Envy and Tasha Hightower -- have each been given two-week suspensions with their salaries being redirected to Give2Asia. A statement by Emmis said: "An internal investigation by Hot 97 and Emmis determined that the singularly egregious actions of Lynn and Delgado warranted termination from their employment at the station."

City Councilman John Liu (D-Queens), who staged a protest at the station last week, believes that more needs to be done. "Their statement is a joke," he told the New York Daily News. "They need to fire Miss Jones, but even more important, they need to accept corporate responsibility." He added that the $1 million pledge "should be $10 million."


Anonymous said...

For them making a song up joking about all the death and suffering they should be FIRED!

Anonymous said...

Why is anyone surprised what comes out of New York??? These are the same idiots that voted in Hillary Clinton as their Senator - need one say more ???

Anonymous said...

They should be fired. As far as electing Hillary Clinton, New York has programs for its down and outs. Here in Texas, Consumer Union lobbying group has given up trying to lobby the Texas Legislature to pass consumer protection and child care bills.

Anonymous said...

God, I'm so glad I left America when I did, and no longer live in such a sick and obscene culture.

Anonymous said...

Suffering and hardship are beyond national boundaries and affects all of us. It's not because Hilary Clinton was made a NY Senator. Narrow minds have narrow views.

Gabriel Moreno said...

I think the reaction to Hot 97's racist and insensitive blunder is being brought out of proportion. At most it shows that there are some incompetent and ignorant individuals running some media outlets. But after all, the media are a mirror of the societies where they're embedded. Aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine if there had been a "9/11" song? No reaction to that would have been considered blowing things out of proportion. Natural disaster or not, pain and suffering is hardly amusing and the media has a responsibility not to pollute the airwaves with such callous drivel.

Anonymous said...

As to anonymous regarding comment on "what comes from New York" it is really no different than any state and what comes out of it. There are uncaring, unthinking people among us all. Also to "I'm so glad I left this country," so are we, when good men do nothing evil flourishes.
Anyone who could compose, sing, play, produce, and be in anyway involved in getting it on air, should be fired. But the outpouring of love from all over this sick world, should be some kind of message to decent people and brothers and sisters all over our world.

Anonymous said...

hahaha.. to "when good men do nothing evil flourishes"... i take it youve seen the movie boondock saints?

Anonymous said...

It's sooooo simple people. You make them who they are. By turning off that radio or tv when their show comes on you take away that "power" or whatever it is that makes any public figure or personality think that they are beyond reproach. I don't think we should send out lynch mobs every time someone does something we don't agree with, but when it's blatantly racist, sexist, cruel, etc....boycott them. It sounds extreme, but it sure beats walking up and down the street in the cold with a sign. Believe me,they don't care about you and your sign. Stop watching, listening to, and reading the materials put out by these folks and see what happens then...

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