- Associated Press - Thursday, August 22, 2019

WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest Hispanic journalist group is rescinding Fox News’ sponsorship of its upcoming annual conference in Texas and returning nearly $17,000 to the network in response to a radio host’s comments about Latino immigrants.

Hugo Balta, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said the group made the move because Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes has repeatedly used prejudiced language toward immigrants.

“It is important that news organizations do not use or give a platform to slanted jargon disguised as opinion that misconstrues the facts,” said Balta, who works at Fox News rival MSNBC.

To accept financial support from Fox News “risks the integrity and credibility of NAHJ’s 35-year mission,” he continued. “To sit silently by is, in essence, to be complicit in the act itself.”

Marsheila Hayes, the vice president of diversity and inclusion at Fox News, said the decision was unfortunate.

“We are committed to fostering a diverse and collaborative workplace environment, and have been recognized in the industry for our advancement in this area, most notably with our multimedia reporter program,” she said. “We are proud of our inclusive team and their achievements in journalism.”

NAHJ is co-sponsoring the Excellence in Journalism Conference with the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. It will be held in September in San Antonio at a time when Latinos around the country have been on edge since 22 people were killed this month in a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

Police said the suspected gunman confessed to targeting Mexicans, and they believe he is the likely author of an anti-Latino screed that called Hispanics “invaders.”

Critics say President Donald Trump and his hardline allies in conservative media have helped fuel a hostile environment against immigrants and Latinos. Trump has referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and has described migrants coming to the U.S. as “an invasion.”

Balta said this isn’t the first time NAHJ has had to talk to Fox about incendiary language by hosts, and the organization decided that recent comments by Starnes - including ones in which he warned against an “invasion of a rampaging hoard of illegal aliens” - were the final straw.

“The latest ‘regret’ by Fox News is one of many where the immigrant community and by association, all Hispanics and Latinos, have been demonized by voices with high visibility,” Balta said.

In his letter announcing the move, Balta referenced the tense climate for Latinos after the El Paso killings, describing how his teenage children asked him if they should stop speaking Spanish in public. “I lied to them,” he said.

“I lied when I said they shouldn’t be afraid and defiantly told them we are not going to stop conversing with one another in Spanish in public. I lied. I am afraid,” said Balta, the son of immigrants from Peru.

Gatherings like the upcoming NAHJ event and recently completed conferences for the National Association of Black Journalists and Asian American Journalists Association are major events for journalists and news organizations from around the country. They include panel discussions, award ceremonies, speeches by leading media figures and recruiting events.

Balta said the other two organizations co-sponsoring the Excellence in Journalism Conference, also known as EIJ19, had refused to return Fox News’ money.

“Although it is unfortunate when the principle of free speech collides with the basic moral standards of civil debate, we will not exclude any media organization from EIJ19 based on their commentators’ points of view,” SPJ President J. Alex Tarquinio said.

RTDNA said in a statement that it “believes the best way we can fight hate is by training journalists to produce news that will inform the public and shine a light on the truth.”

“That is why a conference like Excellence in Journalism is so important,” the organization said. “It is a space to bring together a community of journalists at all levels to learn and support one another. To this end, we pledge to make this conference a safe, open and inclusive place for all journalists.”


Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press. Contact him at jholland@ap.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland .

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