"We are living the civil rights movement of the Latino community, journalists must speak up against injustices"
Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalist, speaks with LPO about being a Latino journalist in the Trump era and the situation with Fox News.

This week the National Association of Hispanic Journalists rescinded Fox News' invitation to sponsor its annual conference. Hugo Balta, president of the organization, spoke with LPO about the situation with the network, the coverage given to the immigration debate in the media, and the future of the Latino community in the U.S.

How did NAHJ decide to uninvite Fox News from your conference?

The NAHJ does not take lightly its decision to rescind the invitation to Fox News to be a sponsor at the Excellence in Journalism Conference. This decision was made after discussing it with the executive director, the director of communications, and the board. We as a news organization that champions the fair treatment of Latinos in newsrooms and news coverages cannot associate ourselves with a media organization that perpetually violates our mission.

What changed after the comments made by Todd Starnes?

While, as president of NAHJ, it is my philosophy that any exchange needs to extend an open hand in collaboration with media companies, including Fox, in working together toward common goals under the journalism umbrella, the comments made by Todd Starnes, while an opinion, just exasperated our patience in this particular relationship. As I told Fox News management, those comments really capsulize the negative environment at Fox News. Starnes felt entitled to not only use slurs like "illegal aliens", "illegals" -two terms that the Associated Press in 2013 advice to not use as adjectives- not only did he use those words, but he also used the words "invasions" and "invaders". These are the same words used by the suspected gunman less than two weeks ago in the massacre of El Paso. Those are the same words that the President of the United States has continued to also use to provide misinformation to the general public. Not only did he use those words but he felt that he had a license to go even further and likened migrants to Nazi Germany. This is the point where NAHJ can't turn the other cheek. We need to stand up and speak up for our community of journalists and our community of Hispanic and Latinos.

What did you think of the response of Fox News?

It doesn't address the immediate concerns that I voiced to Marsheila Hayes [Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion] and other managers at Fox. She has taken an opportunity to beat the drum on initiatives that speak about diversity and inclusion and not address the situation with Todd Starnes as well as the continued rhetoric across Fox News in the negative narrative of the portrayal of Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S.

"We can win Texas, by 2020 we will have 400 thousand more Latino voters than in 2018"

Is there anything that Fox News could say at this point to amend this situation?

There isn't anything that Fox News can say that is going to reverse our decision. This isn't the first time that we've spoken to them in person. I'd had meetings with Fox management earlier this year, we had followed up with emails. The time for speak is over. We are looking for action. What I said to Marsheila and the Fox management team that we met with yesterday, I sent them a message saying that we would like to meet with them soon after the conference so that we can realize for once and for all the changes that are necessary to improve the culture of misinformation at fox News.

Will they be invited to next year's conference?

It is my hope that that change will come because if it does not, we will not be inviting them to be sponsors at the 2020 conference. I immediately reached out to them in order to work with them.

Speaking of Fox News, is there a way to cover the Trump administration positively without supporting its divisive speech towards immigrants?

It is not the position or the place for NAHJ to sway any network one way or another in their narrative. We're not saying that we want them to be more liberal or more conservative. We embrace discussion, including in Opinion. Opinion is a branch of the news department. I'm talking about radio shows, digital segments, cable news on the weekends where there's a lot of discussion and debate about government, and topics like immigration. What we adhere to and demand is that both be in a foundation of fact and truth. You can support the president but base it on an argument of truth and fact. And you can oppose the Trump administration, but also do the same. That is what we are fighting for.

What is your opinion regarding the Trump administration decision to drop de Flores case agreement and extend indefinitely the detention of families at the border?

It is unfortunate and consistent with the Trump administration incessant attack on the immigrant community and by association the Hispanic-Latino community. On one hand, the President says he champions and favors legal immigration, and on the other, he consistently makes it more difficult -not just Hispanics and Latinos, but all people- for them to come here legally. To reverse the Flores policy and incarcerate indefinitely migrants and their families is very questionable.

What do you think of the condition in these detention centers?

For me as a journalist, in looking to the privatization of prisons, that being a billion-dollar business that had been found to fail, it violates human rights. Since the Obama administration studies have shown that those private prisons are more dangerous than government-run prisons. The reasons for the Flores's policy is protecting lives, and this is inhumane. I hope that lawmakers will successfully oppose this latest attack on the immigrant community and protect the lives of people who risk everything to escape crime and terrorism for the hope of safety in the United States.

The mainstream English language media in the U.S., because of a lack of representation of Hispanic and Latino journalists, is not doing a good job of covering the immigration debate and the Trump administration's attack on a vulnerable community

How is the mainstream media covering the immigration issue?

The mainstream English language media in the U.S., because of a lack of representation of Hispanic and Latino journalists in newsrooms, both in front of and behind the cameras, regardless of platform, is not doing a good job of covering the immigration debate and the Trump administration's attack on a vulnerable community. These newsrooms are too far removed from the situation. Their perspective is not from the perspective of a member of that community. Their coverage is very one dimensional, superficial. By contrast, Hispanic media like Telemundo and Univision are doing a better job in covering the immigrant community and the immigration reform debate. Immigration is much more complex than the one-sentence narratives of political pundits like President Donald Trump. They consistently oversimplify it as people crossing the border illegally, it is much more complex than that. The majority of undocumented people in the U.S. are in this country because they overstayed their visas.

And how do you think the Democratic presidential candidates are addressing these issues?

Except for the Texans, Julian Castro, and Beto O'Rourke, not much is being said by the other candidates about the crisis the immigrants and, by association, Hispanic and Latinos are living in fear. Because to a person who is not a member of this community they don't see the distinctions between an undocumented immigrant and a naturalized citizen, or a U.S. born Hispanic/Latino. To them, we all are the same. It is in the best interest of the candidates to engage and understand the Latino-Hispanic community if they want this key demographic that already proved to be a powerful influencer in the 2018 election, and they are positioned to be so even more in the 2020 election.

Which role do you think Latino journalists must play in the Trump era?

It is important that the journalist community in the U.S. to not just stay in the sidelines in covering stories that are affecting not just the Hispanic-Latino community, but all the marginalized communities, all people of color, and engage. And, at times, especially Latino journalists, to get involved, because this country was born in part by the dissatisfaction of journalists speaking out against injustices. The same type of discourse and dissatisfaction was in part what led to the civil rights movement of the 1960s with African Americans. We are right now living the civil rights movement of the Hispanic-Latino community. It is on us journalists, but especially Latino journalists, to stand up and speak up for injustices and flex our constitutional right to hold the powerful accountable, to give voice to the voiceless, and empower the community towards positive, productive change.

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