Media Violence Fast Targets Anti-Immigrant Speech

Religious groups are urging Americans to take a stand against violence in media, particularly hate speech against immigrants, by taking part in a weeklong media fast.

Participants in the 2009 Media Violence Fast, now in its third year, are being asked to reflect on the possible correlation between hate speech – which includes false or exaggerated facts, arguments rooted in hidden assumptions, "us vs. them" language, and dehumanizing metaphors – and violent crimes.

At the same time that participants are being urged to avoid watching violence in media, they are also being challenged to listen to some of the worst anti-immigrant speech in order to "marshal" their moral outrage and action.

"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. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, in a statement. "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."

Each year, the So We Might See Coalition, an interfaith group that seeks media justice, selects a theme for the fast to provide a topic of meditation and social action. This year they have chosen to support the National Hispanic Media Coalition's efforts to increase the public's awareness about hate speech in the national media.

Organizers say the anti-immigrant hate speech seen on television and the Internet, heard on radio, and read in print "employs flawed arguments to appeal to fears rather than facts."

"The presence of hate speech so widely in media creates a climate that makes it impossible to have reasonable policy discussions on issues like immigration reform, and cultivates a climate that condones violence against targeted groups," the coalition contends.

As part of the Oct. 19-26 Media Violence Fast, the coalition is also collecting signatures for a petition that asks the Federal Communications Commission to open a notice of inquiry into hate speech in the media and update a government report that collects statistics and information about the connection between hate speech and hate crimes.

"Immigrant, minority, and religious populations are often targets of hate speech before they are subsequently the target of physical hate crimes," the petition states. "For example, in June 2006 four teenagers posed as federal agents and asked two Mexican men for their green cards. The teenagers then beat and robbed the two men, while accusing them of stealing jobs from U.S. citizens. This incident occurred after radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Mexican immigrants, regardless of legal status, 'a renegade, potential crime element that is unwilling to work.'"

The petition further notes that hate crimes against Hispanics have been increasing over the last four years while such violence against all other groups has been holding steady or attenuating.

A Pew Research Center survey, released last week, revealed that more than half of Americans (52 percent) believe Hispanics face a lot of discrimination. An even higher percentage of the public (58 percent) perceive more discrimination against Muslims.

The coalition is encouraging participants in this year's fast to also learn about Islamophobia to ensure there is less hate directed against Muslim immigrants.

Cheryl A. Leanza, a media attorney who serves as policy director with the United Church of Christ's Office of Communications, Inc., made clear that the interfaith coalition does not support censorship but is asking the federal government to track the impact of anti-immigrant speech on physical violence.

"Hate speech in the media is a growing problem that must be examined before it can be solved," Leanza said in a statement.