By: Sandra Marquez, Associated Press Writer
(AP) From Spanish-language newspapers to Farsi-language radio programs, millions of Americans received news about the war in Iraq from the nation’s growing number of ethnic media outlets.
The war was in many ways a watershed event for the nation’s foreign-language newspapers, radio stations, and television networks. It raised their profile among their own communities while highlighting differences in how they present the news.
In New York, for example, El Diario/La Prensa published startlingly graphic photographs of slain soldiers and journalists.
“War is a nasty, ugly, life-taking action that humans engage in. You must present all sides,” said Gerson Borrero, editor in chief of the 88,000-circulation Spanish-language daily. He said the paper’s coverage has been more objective than mainstream media, which he likened to “spokespersons” for the Pentagon and White House.
Non-English media flourish in cities with large immigrant communities such as New York, Miami, and Detroit. Three years ago, New York’s Independent Press Association listed 198 magazines and newspapers of 52 ethnic and national groups publishing in 36 languages.
If there is a difference in the ethnic media’s coverage of the war, it has to do with immigrants’ personal experience and ties to their home country, said Sandra Ball-Rokeach, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California.
“Ethnic media are propelled by the primary events in the countries of origin,” she said. “In many countries, there were major protests against the war.”
Ethnic media also were serving a “deep hunger” among their audiences for news on how the conflict was affecting foreign communities, said Sandy Close, executive director of New California Media, a San Francisco umbrella group for more than 400 ethnic media organizations. “I think it is going to become more and more central,” she said, contending that mainstream media often overlook the concerns of ethnic communities.
Foreign-language media relied heavily on wire service stories and photographs from Iraq, using their own reporters to profile families or detail the effects of war. Many of their editorials and commentaries were largely critical of the U.S.-led war.
The telephone lines for Hossein Hedjazi’s Farsi-language talk radio show in Los Angeles lit up when he broadcast wire reports that the Iraqi city of Basra was in British hands.
Basra, located near the Iranian border, is home to a large Shiite Muslim community. News of its fall rankled some listeners because it brought the war home to many in the Iranian exile community he serves.
“They are starting to be agitated with American media being biased toward American policy,” Hedjazi said.
In Lawrence, Mass., the 25,000-circulation Spanish-language weekly Siglo21 has tried to keep its focus on local and regional news but also includes opinions about the war — most of it opposed. On April 9, it quoted Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Many foreign-language outlets also were critical of the mainstream media’s placement of reporters with U.S. troops.
In La Opinion, Los Angeles’ largest Spanish-language newspaper, Editorial Page Editor Rafael Buitrago said embedded reporters created a solidarity with the military that “eliminates all distance between the correspondents and the soldiers.”
“What is gained in proximity is lost in objectivity,” he wrote in late March as the war was in its initial stages. The paper’s critical editorial stance eased as the war progressed, and since the conflict began, La Opinion‘s average daily circulation has grown by 5% to about 135,000.
Nowhere does ethnic media thrive more than in California, where 26% of the state’s 34 million people were born outside the United States and no single ethnic group comprises a majority.
The state’s ethnic media includes some 700 newspapers, radio programs, and television shows, publishing and transmitting in Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, Swahili, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Filipino, Cambodian, Hmong, Hindi, Urdu, and other languages.
Publications geared toward California’s Southeast Asian communities have reported on whether the war in Iraq could be a precedent for India to invade Pakistan, using cross-border terrorism as a reason to launch its own pre-emptive strike.
“A lot of our readers are immigrants. They are in between worlds,” said Pilar Marrero, political editor of La Opinion. “They have another view of how the United States intervenes in the world.”