Reshaping perceptions of the ‘other’

“News is perceived as factual and impartial; many outlets are neither.”

Alex Nogales is president & CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, media advocacy and civil rights organization established in 1986 with a mission to educate and influence media corporations on the importance of including U.S. Latinos at all levels of employment.

Is there a connection between media violence and real-life violence?
As with anything that people are subjected to on a repeated basis, it is possible that seeing violence so readily in the media can desensitize people. We see a similar phenomenon in our work against negative stereotypes that may be instructive. In 2012, we conducted a nationwide poll of hundreds of non-Latinos, studying the perceptions that they have of Latinos. One portion of the poll was an online experiment in which subjects saw short clips, with each containing a positive portrayal or negative stereotypes about Latinos. The subject was then asked to answer questions. The results were very clear. People who were exposed to even a brief segment containing negative stereotypes had their opinions altered to the point that their perception of Latinos was much less favorable than the folks who viewed the positive clips. Media is powerful and pervasive in our society and the Powers That Be need to be responsible.

Is one form of media more dangerous than others?
Based on our recent national poll, TV, radio and print media have the potential to influence the thoughts or feelings of the general population. We know from the research of others that this effect is more profound in young viewers and that videogames also have some impact. In our poll, TV news has the potential of shaping opinion to the greatest extent. News is still widely perceived as being factual and impartial and the sad truth is that, in this day and age, many of the more popular “news” outlets share neither of those traits. People still turn to it and trust it to inform their opinions and actions. In fact, in our national poll, people exposed to a negative TV news clip about Latinos were, time and again, much more likely to agree with a negative stereotype than subjects exposed to other types of clips.

Is Hollywood’s depiction of some groups (African-Americans, Hispanics, gays) part of this problem, or is it a separate problem?
When Latinos are only depicted as gangbangers or gardeners, it does contribute to a large swath of people equating a majority of Latinos with a caricature that is often very negative. These portrayals need to be balanced out with more accurate or positive depictions of Latinos. Otherwise, the media can have a dehumanizing effect that makes it easier for somebody with a proclivity towards violence to go out and commit a hate crime. Ultimately, Hollywood, and television and radio outlets, need to strive for this balance so that Latinos are no longer seen as the “other” but, more accurately, as a large part of the fabric of this nation.

What’s the solution, for Hollywood or for the average citizen?
If average citizens are unhappy with the media, they need to raise their voices and make their grievances known. Otherwise, there will be no impetus for change. At NHMC, we try to raise these voices, particularly when an issue impacts the Latino community. Speaking out collectively against offensive or discriminatory material is already very effective and will grow by an order of magnitude if it becomes second nature for average citizens to become more engaged with the media outlets that they follow. People need to know that they already possess the power to shape what they consume — whether it is by contacting the station or network, complaining to the FCC, educating advertisers that support certain programs, or calling elected officials. This will introduce some much needed accountability into this space.