Calls to boycott the Santa Barbara News Press

February 2015

On a day commemorating slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., the Santa Barbara News-Press responded to The People Organized for the Defense of Equal Rights (PODER) in Santa Barbara’s request to retract the word “illegal” from its paper by instead encouraging anti-immigrant hate groups to lead a counter demonstration against PODER’s planned day of civil-rights action.

A coalition of community organizers voiced concerns about the state of civil rights fifty years after Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and called for a boycott of the Santa Barbara News-Press (SBNP) until it adheres to accepted AP standards for representing Latino immigrants. For their part, the Minutemen and other anti-immigrant hate groups exercised their first amendment rights by hurling racial epithets at PODER activists.

The News-Press has tried to paint itself the victim in this dispute by comparing itself to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine where twelve journalists were killed last month in retaliation for derogatory cartoons of Muhammad. The SBNP has compared the spray painting of pro-immigrant language on the front of its building as comparable to the murder of journalists at Charlie Hebdo and argues that its free speech is under attack.

Worldwide outrage over the Charlie Hebdo murders prompted much debate on the importance of free speech. But that didn’t stop French authorities from arresting controversial comedian Dieudonne for making remarks sympathetic to the killers the day after nation-wide demonstrations for the protection of civil liberties.

It turns out the line between free speech and hate speech depends on the race/class standing of the speakers.

Vive la France.

So what exactly is meant by “free speech” in the age of oligarchs?

According to media critic Bagdikian in The New Media Monopoly, five giant media conglomerates – Disney, Viacom, Bertelsmann, News Corporation, and TimeWarner – now own almost all of the world’s communication outlets. These include everything from radio, television, movies, and Internet, to books, magazines, and newspapers.

News Corporation owner Rupert Murdoch is notorious for using Fox News to advance his right-wing political agenda. The latest instance of Fox’s overt racism came shortly after the Charlie Hebdo killings in which Fox commentator Shanon Bream wondered aloud how police would be able to identify “bad guys” if they had ski masks and “couldn’t even know what color,” or what “the tone of their skin was?” (click here).

Unsurprisingly, a recent study by Politifact found that Fox misinformed its viewing audience 38% of the time (click here).

As might be expected in the age of oligarchs and the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, “free speech” is one favoring moneyed elites.

When Wendy McCaw first purchased the Santa Barbara News Press in 2000, it led to the resignations and firings of reporters and staff who disputed the imposition of her political bias on the newspaper’s content. The irony of the current SBNP position in support of free speech cannot be lost on those journalists fired for not aligning with McCaw’s conservative political views. Attempts to unionize at the News-Press were brutally squelched and with a nod from a federal judge, the newspaper has since become a mouthpiece for its right-wing, multi-millionaire owners.

This early dispute over the lack of journalistic integrity and public accountability of the newspaper is probably why the SBNP is incapable of distinguishing between hate speech and free speech. Under the banner of the first amendment, the SBNP has insisted on its freedom to misrepresent an entire race and class of people in Santa Barbara by routinely depicting them as “domestic terrorists” and “thugs”. Its tactic of ridiculing, dismissing, and misrepresenting black and brown culture effectively silences them in the media and erases them from relevant participation in society, a fact that cannot be lost on the owners of the SBNP.

Most recently, the SBNP has demanded the email exchanges between PODER and council member Cathy Murillo. Since the newspaper did not offer a reason for its public-records request, this is an obvious intimidation tactic meant to silence PODER for having the temerity to ask the SBNP to retract the word “illegal.”

The newspaper’s desire to censor PODER’s right to dialog with publicly elected officials is a thinly veiled attempt to hamper its effectiveness as community organizers by limiting its speech. The fact that the SBNP would seek to censor legitimate public dialog between a Latina representative of the city and a Latino advocacy group is worrisome given the paper’s open alliance with anti-immigrant hate groups like the Minutemen. The Minutemen themselves are a violent extremist group responsible for the murder of a Mexican-American family in Arizona in 2011 and a spate of shootings on the border.

We realize that many oligarchs suffer from a crippled sense of irony. The Santa Barbara News-Press has a long history of suing people it disagrees with in order to shut them up. An article published by the paper on January 27th mentions its lawsuit against Murillo’s husband David Pritchett when he served on the city’s Transportation and Circulation Committee in a dispute instigated by the News-Press to prevent De La Guerra plaza from being turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare. The pedestrian thoroughfare would have been disadvantageous to the newspaper’s customer parking privileges in the plaza so it sued the city at a cost of thousands of dollars to taxpayers.

What is more, McCaw brought lawsuits against employees who attempted to unionize at the News-Press, as well as local businesses who showed support for them by displaying signs in their storefront windows. This is in addition to countless more lawsuits she has brought against other newspapers, journalists, websites, and former employees who have had the temerity to speak out against her biased and unethical journalistic practices.

PODER remains committed to speaking truth to power and has refused to be silenced by Santa Barbara News-Press owners Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Weisenberger.

For these reasons, PODER has issued its own public-records request for all email exchanges between SBNP, its vigilante allies among the Minutemen, and council members Frank Hotchkiss and Dale Francisco who joined anti-immigrant counter-demonstrators at De La Guerra plaza on MLK Day.

We feel that the presence of these council members on the side of the SBNP and its anti-immigrant allies points up their long history of discriminatory policies and practices towards Santa Barbara’s Latino community. Both Hotchkiss and Francisco have supported racial profiling in Santa Barbara and have been openly dismissive of Latino concerns during city council meetings.

Those who support the SBNP’s use of hate speech for undocumented Latino workers are acting with a complete lack of regard for the people of Santa Barbara, a city that prides itself on its rich Mexican heritage and seeks to capitalize on its ethnic diversity for its tourism industry.  PODER feels that the race-baiting tactics of the Santa Barbara News-Press are divisive, irresponsible, and ultimately unacceptable.

For these reasons, PODER is calling for a general boycott of the Santa Barbara News-Press and has urged businesses and community organizations to pull their advertising from its pages until the paper complies with accepted AP-reporting standards on the issue of immigration and Latino affairs.

PODER believes that hate speech masquerading as free speech must be accountable to the citizens and that fair and ethical standards of journalism should prevail in the news media.