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 MediaChannel.org 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.
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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."