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Policy

Arizona Shootings Prompt Probe Request

1/17/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Cable news networks and their pundits
are facing renewed criticism in Washington from a
familiar source.

Prompted by the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
(D-Ariz.) and others at an appearance in a shopping
mall near Tuscon — and the ensuing national conversation
about the role of violent rhetoric in politics and the
media — the National Hispanic Media Coalition is pushing
the Federal Communications Commission to act on its
longstanding request to investigate so-called hate speech.

That is according to NHMC president Alex Nogales,
who said the group would also ask the National Telecommunications
& Information Administration to update
an almost two-decades old report on the effects of hate
speech and would press Congress to make sure NTIA got
the money to do so.

Prompted in part by the rhetoric surrounding the
heated immigration debate — Arizona’s tough laws have
been something of a flashpoint
on that issue of late —
NHMC was the lead name
on a petition for FCC inquiry
filed in January 2009
and renewed that request in
May 2010. Joining the petition
was a host of groups,
including Free Press,
Common Cause, Rainbow
PUSH, United Church
of Christ and many others.
Nogales said he would
reach out to them and others
for support in this latest
push.

Free Press deferred any
comment on the petition to
NHCM, but a spokesperson
added: “This issue was important
on Friday [before
the Saturday shootings],
and it’s important today. “

The FCC has not opened
such an inquiry, according
to an aide to one of the commissioners.
While the FCC
has only narrowly
defined
speech regulation
powers, it
has opened an
inquiry into the
future of journalism,
though
it does not have
authority to
regulate journalism,
and produced
a report
on TV violence
for Congress,
though it does
not have authority
to regulate
that, either.

NHMC has
been urg ing
the FCC to investigate
what
it sees as the
link between
extreme rhetoric
and hate
speech on radio and cable TV and real-world violence
and hate crimes. Nogales sees the Arizona shootings as
an outgrowth of that. “We can’t stand there with our arms
crossed and make like there isn’t a reason why this is happening,”
he told Multichannel News in an interview.

“We started this dialog in the last immigration debate
four years ago. We could see that it was just out of control.
It started with the issue of immigration, then every pundit
on radio and TV who wanted an audience started talking
about it and started using the worst of language, and now
it has spilled out into [the] mainstream,” he said.

NHMC wanted NTIA to update a 1993 study on the impact
of telecommunications on hate speech. Jessica Gonzalez,
NHMC vice president for policy and legal affairs,
said NTIA has indicated it is interested in that update, but
said it needs money from Congress to fund it. An NTIA
spokesperson was not available for comment by press
time.

Gonzalez also said the group has met with all five FCC
commissioners. They are sympathetic to an inquiry,
though not to regulation, she said, adding that would be
fine with NHMC since the group is only seeking information,
not regulation.

The FCC has not opened that inquiry, according to various
FCC sources.

Following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the
killing of a federal judge, a young girl and four others,
and the wounding of a dozen more, Giffords’ supporters
pointed to Sarah Palin’s website, which featured the use
of gun-related imagery and a posting of crosshairs on
Giffords’ district after she voted for healthcare.

Palin expressed sympathy for the victims but dismissed
criticisms last week, saying criminals are responsible for
their own actions.

Numerous members of Congress, joined by the President,
called for a more civil tone to political debate. But
NHMC wants more. “Just saying we have to be civil isn’t
enough anymore,” Nogales told Multichannel News. “We
have to scientifically prove that hate speech leads to hate
crimes.”

September