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Wants to update almost two-decades old report on effects of hate speech, press Congress for money to do so

By John Eggerton — Broadcasting & Cable, January 10, 2011

Prompted by the shootings in Arizona over the weekend and ensuing national conversation about the role of violent rhetoric in politics and the media, the National Hispanic Media Coalition plans to press the FCC to act on its longstanding petition on hate speech.

That is according to NHMC President Alex Nogales, who said the group would also push the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NITA) 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.

The FCC has not yet acted on the petition, according to an aide to one of the commissioners.

He said the group would immediately ask the FCC to act on its inquiry petition and for Congress to fund the NTIA study update. “I hate for things to come to this before people move, but if this is the only way, then we have to push this,” Nogales said.

NHMC has been urging 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 hateful speech. “We can’t stand there with our arms crossed and make like there isn’t a reason why this is happening,” he told B&C 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 just an 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 mainstream,” he said.

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 Web site and its posting of cross-hairs on Giffords’ district after she voted for healthcare, and the use of gun-related imagery. That was part of a dialog that has sprung up in Washington and elsewhere about the harsh and violent tone of political debate and media comment and its possible consequences.

“Just saying we have to be civil isn’t enough anymore. We have to scientifically prove that hate speech leads to hate crimes.”

Nogales said the group would first issue a press release, then push the FCC to conduct the inquiry and Congress to fund an update of the NTIA’s 1993 report on the role of telecommunications on hate crimes. Language like “crosshairs and trigger and reload” have gone too far, he said, “and that was just one politician. But if you hear the whole range of people who talk this way, you see the link between hate speech and hate crimes. But you have to prove the link.”

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 for support in this latest push.

As recently as September, Nogales was seeking support from FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn for the petition. She had joined with NHMC to call for dialing down the heated rhetoric that surrounded the network neutrality debate.

They were not asking for content regulation, and Nogales reiterated that to B&C Monday, but instead for “non-regulatory” means, saying if the FCC would investigate, it would use the information for “educational, informational and research purposes.”

“We’re not looking for regulations,” said Nogales. “We’re about bringing this to the consciousness of the American people to the point where we as a nation and a population say to each other: ‘We can’t continue like this.’ We want to put the pressure on those individuals who continue to use that kind of rhetoric so that they stop it or mitigate it.”

NOTE: Industry Ears supports this inquiry and signed the petition to do so in both ’09 and ’10