Dec 1 1987

Mayor Harold Washington on ‘Media Parity’

The following remarks are adapted from a speech by the late Mayor Harold Washington to the National Association of Black Journalists in Miami last August.

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington (cc photo: City of Boston)

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington (cc photo: City of Boston)

In October 1983, after I had been in office about six months, I was invited to speak to the TV producers in Chicago. The theme of my speech was the lack of parity in the media for minorities and women. I dwelt on that subject rather exhaustively to try to point out the reason why Chicago still was not where it should be as a city. It’s because the news never quite came out the way things actually happened. It came out in a skewed fashion because we didn’t have Hispanics, women, blacks and other minorities to winnow out, interpret and help make the news more meaningful to the majority of people in our city.

That was a convoluted way of saying the news was biased in Chicago. It is still biased in Chicago. It shall forever be biased in Chicago, until people get fed up and start demanding that something be done about it. We need to reevaluate the whole structure of the news industry—-the owners, editors, anchorpersons, producers, journalists on the street. The media of this country are in sore need of a shot of adrenalin—not to keep awake but to keep honest. It’s time they start dealing with the key issues facing this country rather than pap, as they’ve been wont to do.

Our cities are confronted with serious problems. Most are in dire financial shape. We’re losing our heavy industry and our jobless rate has gone up. Federal cutbacks are hurting us. A lack of commitment to public education has eroded our schools, which now serve primarily blacks and Hispanics. An urban housing program is essential for the entire country. We need help in articulating these problems so that people can understand what’s happening. But it’s difficult to get our message across when it’s siphoned through newspapers and other media which in many cases are predisposed against what we’re trying to say.

If you look at our major media, you don’t find many black journalists. At our two major metropolitan papers in Chicago, there is one black on each editorial board. I think you’ll find a similar situation all over the country. A democracy can prevail only if all segments of society are heard. If they are victims of no information or disinformation, the net result is a body politic that is less qualified to take care of its own business.

Blacks in this country have got to move into the business world, and that includes the media. We’re moving in the political arena, but that may not be the most important. For those who hold elected office can’t be effective unless the people they represent understand the problems confronting them. And that’s just not happening in modern America.

So we should continue to raise our voices to demand parity in the media and do whatever it takes—economic boycotts, marches or otherwise. We can win this battle, because the numbers are with us. In Chicago, the “minority” population is roughly 65 percent. In Detroit, it’s around 65 percent and rising. Yet most metropolitan newspapers do not cater to the working public within their cities; they reach out to the suburbs to embrace a more affluent readership. These papers are still based in our cities, they own city property and to a great extent they control our cities. But newspapers largely ignore the people right around them.

Parity in the media is something that has to come about. I for one and others will join that quest, because we’re wrapped up inextricably in the dance of lite, in a dance which obviously and clearly must end in a victory for us.