Photo by Ben McLeod/Flickr (Creative Commons)
It's not every day that city elected officials make a case for diversifying the staff of media outlets. Which makes a resolution passed yesterday by the Los Angeles City Council, meant to address a recent on-air controversy over racially charged language, worth noticing.
The background: In a segment last month a few days after singer Whitney Houston's untimely death in Beverly Hills, radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou of KFI 640 AM’s “The John and Ken Show” referred to the late star as a "crack ho."
The duo was suspended for two weeks, but complaints continued, as the Houston flap was the most recent in a string of incidents that insulted minorities. In recent months, both Latino and Asian American groups had sought to have the show taken off the air. Asian American civil rights groups in Los Angeles protested earlier this year after the hosts made disparaging comments about Koreans; last fall, several Latino groups picketed Clear Channel’s offices in Burbank, demanding the show be canceled after the hosts gave out the phone number of an immigrant advocacy group’s spokesman on air. Their fans deluged the man with hate calls.
The Los Angeles City Council resolution, sponsored by council member Jan Perry, takes aim mostly at content, criticizing KFI AM talk show hosts for "a long history of racially offensive comments as well as deplorable sexist remarks. It then urges "that all management of radio and television stations in Los Angeles to do everything in their power to ensure that their on-air hosts do not use and promote racist and sexist slurs over public airwaves in the City of Los Angeles."
It charges that "Clear Channel Media Holding's commitment to diversity is not being realized at its flagship station KFI 640 AM," but it then extends the call for "a truly diverse work environment" to other media outlets. Here's a chunk of the resolution:
WHEREAS, when you have an absence of Asian Americans, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans in the workplace, it is easy to become desensitized to what other groups find intolerable which ultimately fosters an environment where negative comments can go unchecked and corporate guidelines and policies are no longer being enforced; and
WHEREAS, a truly diverse work environment includes the continuous hiring of women and Asian Americans, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that by adoption of this Resolution, that all management of radio and television stations in Los Angeles to do everything in their power to ensure that their on-air hosts do not use and promote racist and sexist slurs over public airwaves in the City of Los Angeles; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the derogatory language used by some radio personnel has no place on public airwaves in the Great City of Los Angeles or anywhere in America; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a truly diverse work environment must include the hiring of women, Asian Americans, Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans not only as on-air talent, but as fill-in talent, paid contributors, producers, engineers, news reporters and online Web site owners.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Pasadena-based media watchdog group that's been calling for "The John and Ken Show" to be taken off the air, has posted the resolution on its website. The show isn't likely to be taken off-air soon, though. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that the Clear Channel-owned KFI continues to lead in local ratings, and that in spite of the hosts' suspension last month, "John and Ken" placed third in the 3-7 p.m. weekday slot.
It's not surprising that the move comes during what's become a sensitive time for conservative talk radio, with the problems that have been plaguing host Rush Limbaugh (whose syndicated show on KFI also received a mention in the resolution). Still, the diversity discussion among L.A. city leaders is an interesting one, echoing what professional minority journalists' organizations have long held to: That a lack of diversity in the newsroom can lead to a lack of cultural sensitivity in the content produced, not only in overt ways but in subtle ones, most often inadvertently.
Some examples can be found in a news management diversity census report from the National Association of Black Journalists, issued last year.