Monday, August 16, 2004

UNITY in minority journalism creates new media bias Aug. 13, 2004

By Ray Hanania

When four of the largest organizations representing racial and ethnic minority journalists come together, they inadvertantly create a new form of discrimination.

The recent "UNITY: Journalists of Color" convention ended August 8 in Washington, D.C., with participants embracing a long-term vision to promote diversity in American journalism, the profession with the Lucite ceiling that doesn't break as easily as glass.

The organization represents a convergence of African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American heritage journalists. In coming together, they created a new majority that, like all majorities, by default excludes others not just on the basis of race or religion, but also on the basis of need.

One of the main topics of discussion at UNITY was the nation's most talked-about media subject. The War on Terror has many aspects that relate to Arabs and Muslims, one of the most excluded ethnic and racial minorities in the nation's history.

Yet, the conference had few professional Arab journalist participants. And if there were any Muslims involved, their religious identity took a back seat to their UNITY racial identification color codes. How can you discuss the conflict in the Middle East, the impact of the Patriot Act on Arabs and Muslims, the War on Terror and the Arab-Israeli conflict without including a significant representation of the people involved? Arab journalists? Muslim journalists?

In reality, UNITY reflects the growing strength of journalists of the four specific colors (black, brown, red and yellow), but also absence of oftentimes difficult-to-see colors, like olive, for one. The truth is, you can't bring minorities together and expect to preserve their minority status or avoid the pitfalls of becoming a majority.

Nor can you expect minorities overwhelmed with their own challenges to completely understand or make room to address the problems of other minorities, like Arabs or Muslims.

It is worse in the reality of American journalism, which is dominated by white men. Now with fewer voices in the face of more and more mergers, American media are driven as much by profits as they are by truth.

In that world, the spots open to minorities of any color are limited. When you make room for "more minorities" to join the "coalition," you are sacrificing your own gains, not expanding into the larger white-controlled profession.

American journalism doesn't view minority journalists as equals. They see them as a story and essential to achieve "diversity." The term "diversity" has a very misleading meaning. The white robber barons of the media conglomerates see diversity not as a process of melting everyone into one, but as a better alternative to quotas.

With quotas, you set aside a specific number of positions to minorities. With diversity, you merely shoot for an acceptable number that is never defined, and fight hard to prevent that number from becoming larger.

"Diversity" becomes the process of preserving majority domination of the media, not assimilating into a colorless, faceless and pure form of media altruism.

To Arabs and Muslims, the word "diversity" means exclusion. It doesn't mean opening the door to "everyone."

I am not criticizing the four organizations seeking to broaden the voices of our nation's media. I monitored the conference via C-SPAN, in speaking with a UNITY reporter and reading their Web site news report postings. I applaud them for taking on a difficult and complex challenge. Many Arab and Muslim journalists are partnering as members with the Asian American Journalist Association to help address these isses, issues Blacks, Hispanic and Native American journalists don't seem to be fully addressing.

But they need to recognize that diversity must lead to a complete change and not just an accommodation. When I was the first Arab reporter ever assigned on a full-time basis to cover a string of white mayors at Chicago's City Hall, no one ever discussed the issue of diversity until the city's first woman was elected mayor and then the first African American was elected mayor.

Suddenly, the two major newspapers assigned black reporters to "support" the veteran white City Hall reporters. Once the face of the media took on color, diversity was laid to rest.

In that context, the only way an Arab or Muslim can expect to be invited to the inner circle under the current structure of the UNITY fraternity is if an Arab or Muslim were to become mayor of Chicago.

But waiting for society to open the door to necessary changes in America's not-so-perfect news media undermines the very role journalism must play in truthfully and fully exposing society's flaws so they can be corrected. The pie is only so large.

While there might be many seats at the table, in order to make "diversity" really work, those seated at the table must be truly diverse.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC

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