“[National Hispanic Media Coalition] Renews Call for Federal Government to Study Hate Speech in Media”

So says a Coalition press release. Some excerpts:

Tomorrow the NHMC will file letters with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), sharing this new poll data and renewing unanswered requests that NHMC made back in 2009 for the agencies to study the impacts of hate speech in media.

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Alex Nogales, President and CEO of NHMC, presented the poll findings alongside Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and fellow civil rights activists from the NAACP, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA)….

Neither the press release nor the underlying report defines “hate speech,” but it does talk about some things it disapproves of, including, for instance (emphasis added):

People exposed to negative entertainment or news narratives about Latinos and/or immigrants hold the most unfavorable and hostile views about both groups….

In discussing those in this country without documentation, the term commonly employed by some media outlets, “illegal aliens,” elicits much more negatives feelings than the term “undocumented immigrants.”

Non-Latinos report seeing Latinos in stereotypically negative or subordinate roles (gardeners, maids, dropouts, and criminals) in television and film.

Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was unable to attend the press conference, but issued the following statement in support of NHMC’s work: “We get calls in my office from angry and outraged talk radio listeners several times a week filled with misconceptions and negative stereotypes. The reality is that when you strip away the anger, underneath there is a lot of consensus among Democrats, Republicans, and independents on the immigration issue and how to get things back on a legal footing. Solutions are within reach. Talk radio is an obstacle to reforming immigration but not an insurmountable one.”

Now if people want to study how media affects people’s perceptions of Hispanics, Southerners, Muslims, evangelical Christians, gays, conservatives, or whomever else, that’s just fine, and can indeed be quite interesting. The media, and the formation of public opinion, are eminently reasonable topics for research.

But when (1) not just an advocacy group but Congressmen as well (2) ask the federal government entity that has the power to give and withdraw licenses, including based on media content, (3) to “study” “hate speech,” (4) with no definition but with examples broad enough to cover a vast range of commentary (express and implied), that strikes me as especially dangerous. And it ties in to leading international law scholars’ views about how restrictions on “hate speech” could be justified using international law norms (see the posts about the views of Prof. Peter Spiro and Dean Harold Koh).