Panelists hashed out controversies over the media’s representation of minorities last night in Hutchins Hall at the Law School.

Sarah Royce
Rackham student Mohammad Khalil, a doctoral candidate in Islamic Studies, speaks at a panel yesterday about the line between hate speech and the First Amendment in journalism. (TOMMASO GOMEZ/Daily)

The Muslim Students’ Association invited various student groups as well as The Michigan Daily to sit on a panel. The panel discussion, called “Freedom of Speech or License to Hate,” began shortly after 7 p.m. and featured representatives from the United Asian American Organization, Hillel and the campus chapter of the NAACP.

Despite a meager turnout, the panelists gave impassioned speeches that incited responses from the audience. Themes discussed included the media’s role in representing people and ideas across populations, stereotypes created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the significance of racism and the slow trek toward change.

This discussion comes on the heels of a campus-wide debate over controversial cartoons published in The Michigan Daily last fall. The most controversial cartoon shows a classroom of dark-skinned students with one white student. A dark-skinned teacher says that everyone in the class will be granted preference in the University admissions process because of affirmative action, except the white student.

UAAO co-chair Stephen Ahn distinguished between “yellow peril” – the depiction of Asians as a threat to the American way of life – and the modern perception of Asians as the “model minority.” Both stereotypes are dangerous, he said.

Perry Teicher, chair of the Hillel governing board, said the University should be striving for back-and-forth dialogue between student groups and campus media.

Teicher insisted that once a controversial opinion piece or political cartoon is published, even though the publication may apologize or retract the commentary, its impact cannot be undone.

When asked by an audience member what constitutes “inflammatory” content, Teicher answered that sometimes “shouting matches can make you feel better.” There is an unclear boundary, he said, between content that spurs constructive debate and content that provokes hate.

Riana Anderson, chair of the University’s chapter of NAACP, described the delivery of “hate-filled” content as “purposeful, manipulative and without apology.”

The media’s portrayal of certain issues has power over changes in people’s actions and views, she said.

As an example of the media’s power over popular opinion, Mohammad Khalil, an Islamic Studies doctoral candidate, brought up the tarnished image of Islam after the Sept. 11 attacks.

He said hate and fear of Muslims was inspired not by the attacks themselves, but by the climate of hostility perpetuated by television and newspapers.

Khalil blames the misrepresentation of Islam on “a large degree of intellectual laziness,” a term he used to explain the media’s focus on radical Islam instead of the mainstream Muslim population.

Panelist Carmel Salhi, former president of Students Allied for Freedom and Economic Equality, said people should not stifle their outrage or passion about discrimination and racism. This passion, Salhi said, serves as a driving force behind change.

In reference to some groups’ negative sentiments toward the Daily, Anderson said there is “so much anger that it hinders every attempt to fix anything.”

“Nothing seems to be working,” Anderson said.

Stereotypes are created and propagated not only by the media but also in private conversation, said Donn Fresard, editor in chief of The Michigan Daily. Pushing all hurtful expression underground is not the key to progress, Fresard said.

The Daily co-sponsored the panel discussion.

Racism in America is difficult to define or pinpoint, said Manan Desai, a graduate student who sat on the panel. Desai told the story of being asked by a friend if he was a victim of racism. Desai said yes, but said he could not identify specifically how he was targeted.

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