Is the term “illegal immigrants” hate speech?
In a press release today, the National Hispanic Media Coalition released a poll that it says shows media portrayals of Latinos and immigrants “are fueling rampant negative stereotypes among the general population that are diminishing perceptions of these groups throughout the United States.”
The group is asking the FCC — again — to study the “impacts of hate speech in media.”
The group said…
…after viewing just one minute of media content, poll respondents changed the way they view Latinos. When asked if Latinos were intelligent, those who consumed negative news and entertainment pieces were much more likely to rate Latinos as unintelligent, while those who consumed positive pieces were much more likely to rate Latinos as intelligent.
It doesn’t define what qualifies as “hate speech” in this context, however. It does say that one of the terms it says leads to the negative perception is the phrase, “illegal aliens.”
But does that make it “hate speech?”
Eugene Volokh, the legal scholar who writes The Volokh Conspiracy, doesn’t think so.
Now if people want to study how media affects people’s perceptions of Hispanics, Southerners, Muslims, evangelical Christians, gays, conservatives, or whomever else, that’s just fine, and can indeed be quite interesting. The media, and the formation of public opinion, are eminently reasonable topics for research.
But when (1) not just an advocacy group but Congressmen as well (2) ask the federal government entity that has the power to give and withdraw licenses, including based on media content, (3) to “study” “hate speech,” (4) with no definition but with examples broad enough to cover a vast range of commentary (express and implied), that strikes me as especially dangerous. And it ties in to leading international law scholars’ views about how restrictions on “hate speech” could be justified using international law norms (see the posts about the views of Prof. Peter Spiro and Dean Harold Koh).
Indeed, Peter Spiro, who writes at Opinio Juris, says that hate speech should be banned, as it is in European countries…
Call me a relativist. We have some pretty good empirical data from the scores of other countries that ban hate speech (in part through signing on to article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) that a permissive approach to hate speech is not a prerequisite to functioning democracy. On the contrary, our European friends would argue that democracy is better served by banning such material. Either way, our exceptionalism on this score doesn’t serve us very well.
Spiro writes his post in the aftermath of the embassy/consulate attacks over the film that spawned them. Others argue, however, that there is a difference between “offensive speech” and “hate speech.”
Discussion point: Where is that line?