Ethnic Media Practice Serious Journalism at Risk of Peril

Courtesy New America Media, Kenneth Kim

Editor’s Note: Practicing the first amendment in America can be hazardous to your health, especially if you work in the ethnic media sector, according to editors at a New America Media-sponsored conference on ethnic media and freedom of expression in Los Angeles this week.

LOS ANGELES – The First Amendment may have guaranteed the promise of a free press, but for ethnic media reporting on their own communities that can be as perilous as covering a war zone. In ethnic enclaves where the power of protest is mightier than the pen, it takes a combination of physical courage, mental perseverance and sometimes even the willingness to risk one’s own life to practice journalism.

A diverse group of leading editors from ethnic news media gathered in Los Angeles on April 7 to share accounts of threats they had received from their own communities. The roundtable discussion, “A Challenge for Ethnic Media: When Coverage Provokes Threats from Your Own Community,” was co-hosted by New America Media, the California First Amendment Coalition, USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism, CSU Northridge’s Center for Ethnic and Alternative Media, The Society of Professional Journalists-Greater LA Chapter, UCLA Center for Communications and Community, California Chicano News Media Association (CCNMA) and other media advocacy groups.

Journalists, editors and publishers of ethnic media told harrowing tales of having been boycotted, protested, sued, harassed, and physically threatened by members of their own communities who wanted to dictate what the ethnic news media could and couldn’t cover.

On the morning of Aug 2, 2007, as he was heading to work, Chauncey Bailey, editor of the black newsweekly Oakland Post, was gunned down with a 12-gauge shot gun in downtown Oakland, Calif. He had been working on a story about the suspicious activities of the local business Your Black Muslim Bakery.

While reporting on Korean organized crime in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, Tom Byun, former editor of the Korea Times, received a letter assuring him that his fingers would be cut off if the coverage continued.

Hassina Leelarathne, editor of Sri Lanka Express in Arleta, Calif., recounted an incident that was provoked by a simple line in her story criticizing the rude behavior of a Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s wife when the couple visited the United States. Leelarathne husband, also a journalist, was beaten when he covered a meeting supporting the Tamil Tigers.

“I felt really violated. I can’t explain and describe how terrible those messages were,” said Leelarathne. In a fragile voice, she recalled a flood of death threats and sexually explicit messages that were left on her answering machine.

The conference was organized in response to the ongoing anti-communist protests targeting Westminster’s Nguoi Viet Daily, the largest and oldest Vietnamese daily in the United States.


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