Sunday, January 23, 2005

The New Media Police: You and Me?

On-air personalities at a NY hip-hop radio show joined the ranks of other racist DJ’s when they aired a musical parody that mocked South Asian tsunami victims, using racial slurs "chink" and "Chinamen," and calling drowned victims "bitches." WQHT/Hot 97 broadcast the "Tsunami Song" during the "Miss Jones in the Morning" show. Station Manager John Dimick has since issued an apology saying that the show's seven-person staff “has agreed to contribute one-week's pay to the tsunami-relief efforts."

Is that enough? asks Tom Biro:
Sometimes I'm amazed (should I say frightened?) that incidents like this one continue to happen. This isn't about "pushing the envelope," which I'm pretty much all for. I'm a card-carrying member of the Jeff Jarvis "change the channel" club, and don't want any further restrictions and regulations put on various media outlets. At the same time, I think they have to think before they do something.
WQHT's apology was late in coming and occurred only after angered listeners responded to a segment of the offending broadcast featured on its website.

A similar case occurred 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." This clip aired without incident on December 15. It was only after an employee posted it on the station’s Web site that a public backlash began. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the station pulled the clip from its website after receiving over 130 email and phone complaints -- reportedly the most complaints the station had ever received in response to a single incident.

The offending Philadelphia DJ's -- Star and Buc Wild -- received a one-day suspension. Though, Later the same week, they announced that they had finalized a deal to air their daily show in the lucrative New York market -- at Hot 97's rival hip-hop station Power 105. The incident registered hardly a misstep on their path to reach even more listeners.

Biro has faith in this newly energized public’s ability to use tools, such as weblogs, streaming audio and forums, to curtail such media infractions. To which I ask Biro: Is that enough?

I subscribe to the “change the channel” school as well. . . with one catch: When it comes time for these stations to renew their broadcast licenses with the Federal Communications Commission -- which grants them free access to our publicly owned airwaves -- they must demonstrate that in exchange for our spectrum they provide programming that serves the “public interest.” This interest is vaguely defined as yet, I know, but it’s fair to say that the above content does not qualify -- and a repeated pattern of such abuse should form reasonable grounds for yanking a station's over-the-air privileges. I'll have to check on this with our coalition partners over at communications law firm Media Access Project.

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. 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.

Is that enough?

SIDEBAR: Racist-cum-media pundit takes to the air in Pittsburgh.


Tom said...

Tim: Great points all around, and your question of asking if the public can be given the charge of watching over what they do or don't find to be "allowed" on the air is well received.

That said, I think the idea that taking things another step forward - with regard to licensing - is an obvious next step. But I'm not sure that Americans are to the point to go that far, especially if they want to have a fine line between government regulation and "people's choice." But this would have to be done carefully, and not in the same astroturf-looking complaint manner that many of the PTC complaints have turned out to be, as Jeff Jarvis pointed out through his FOIA request(s).

I think this would need to be fleshed out a bit, and people would need a bit of education as to how the licensing process works, instead of just blindly sending their comments in and not realizing what could happen on the other end.

fergie said...

Here's a letter I sent to the show's sponsor, Sprint. I say fight fire with fire. If the right can go after Spongebob for ludicrous allegations, progressives can stand up for our values here:

Subject: Please do not sponsor racist shows

Hi, I am writing to urge you to pull your advertising from the Hot 97 Morning Show unless Miss Jones and her racist co-hosts are removed.

While I realize Miss Jones is a popular host, this "Tsunami Song" that she and her cohorts came up with is really unacceptable.

Not only did Miss Jones and her friends compose and promote the song, but in this clip below, Miss Jones actually defends the song to another cohost, Miss Info, who apparently declined to have anything to do with it because she thought it was inappropriate. Instead of acknowledging her bad taste, Miss Jones attacks Miss Info for being politically correct.

I am all for free speech and believe me, I have never before written to an advertiser about the content of any program. But this song is just beyond the pale.

You should know that in the link below, one of the hosts interrupts Miss Jones' senseless tirade about the song to say that the show is "sponsored by Sprint."
See here:

And then we hear this incredibly heartless, clueless (i.e. Chinamen??), racist song:

There was a time when the sun was shining bright
So I went down to the beach to catch me a tan
Then the next thing I knew, a wave twenty feet high
Came and washed your country away

And all at once you could hear the screaming chinks
And no one was safe from the waves
There were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away
You could hear God laughing, "Swim, you b*tches, swim!"

So now you're screwed, it's the tsunami
You better run or kiss your ass away, go find your mommy
I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head
and now your children will be sold to child slavery (2X)

I realize people cope with tragedy (and media rubbernecking) in different ways, but this is so beyond the pale. How does one joke about child slavery like that?

Also, while Hot 97 issued a formal apology, incredibly they failed (until this morning!) to remove a link to the song that was listed prominently on the Morning Show's web page under "Funny Sh*t" (Where there are also a selection of stupid routines mocking Mohammed and Islam, by the way.... I am all for humor, but to say Mohammed's "eyes are blue, I mean, blown away..." This is not even funny. It's just stupid.)

It's nice that Miss Jones and her staff are donating a week's salary to Tsunami victims, but I really don't think that means they will change their behavior or attitudes. Why hasn't Miss Jones herself apologized? If you listen to the MP3 above, where Miss Jones takes pains to defend the song, I think you will agree that just docking her pay for charity is not sufficient. People who not only say such racist things but defend their right to do so should not be allowed on air.

I am used to hearing such slurs from neo-Nazis and White Power groups. I would not expect to hear crap like this on a big-city urban format. In New York City, especially, this is just unacceptable.

Thank you.


Sarah Ferguson

Anonymous said...

Re Tepid 97 and its appalling attitude about the tsunami, sometimes it can be a very fine line between freedom of expresion and inciting hatred. I am all for freedom of expression, individually and via the airwaves but the station has pushed the fine line way too far. My father and I have contacted companies which advertise on the station about our concerns and would urge others to do likewise. Pasting an apology on a website too long after the event and throwing a few dollars around as some sort of feel-better compensation goes nowhere near far enough. Have any heads rolled at the station? How could anyone with even a pinch of humanity try to laugh off a tragedy which claimed many thousands of lives and has left so many people in despair? I have worked in the industry for many years and have NEVER been so pissed off. No, disgusted might be a better word. When is the station's licence up for renewal? Is anyone going to do something about this? If you are, and you need moral support, please contact me.

Ruthie Rader said...

You knew this would upset ME. And you're right.

I, too, would like those radio jerks at that station to "feel the love." [NOT!]

If you think I should send a letter or make a phone call, I will.

Always Remember And Never Forget:

Life has a way of even-ing up the score.

My most recent posts about a certain writer for the Associated Press proves that point very nicely.

It took several years but the opportunity finally presented itself and I made the most of it.

[And someday Google will realize the error of ITS ways.]

In the meantime, I will be happy to assist you in THIS endeavor. Thank you for bringing the radio rejects to my attention.

Jon Koppenhoefer said...

It would be wonderful to live in a world where this kind of thing didn't happen. Why does it happen in this one?

No, this radio station hasn't paid nearly enough for its offenses. I would suggest that the FCC investigate the incident(s) and take action at least as punitive as punitive measures against Howard Stern and his broadcaster(s).

To let the station off with 'one week's pay donated to the refugee relief effort' is not nearly enough.

The donation is simply the start of redemption and atonement, to use a religious model of ethical instruction. More is called for, and should be imposed if genuine contrition is not demonstrated.

Does the FCC think this broadcast is less harmful to the public than Stern's vulgarity or Tittygate?

fergie said...

This song appalled me so much I started a blog. You can find updates to this sorry saga here:

So thanks Tom, for enlisting me in the ranks of media police, tho I confess I chafe at that term. watchdog or watchcat would be better...