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Friday, March 31, 2006

NABJ Cautions Media Over Language Use in Immigration Debate; Stands in Support of Accuracy in Journalism

NABJ Cautions Media Over Language Use in Immigration Debate; Stands in Support of Accuracy in Journalism

WASHINGTON, March 31 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Association of Black Journalists calls for caution in the use of language amid the ongoing immigration debate, reminding the news media that accuracy in language use is a vital component of journalism fairness and credibility.

NABJ stands firmly in support of its sister organization, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, in its plea that newspapers, television and radio outlets avoid using the term "illegal aliens" in the context of the current debate, as it is inaccurate and susceptible to misinterpretation.

Terms such as "undocumented immigrant" or "economic refugee" are more accurate, do not unfairly criminalize a human being and are more widely accepted terms in use by such respected journalism organizations as the New York Times and Associated Press.

"The words we use can in fact frame the debate," said NABJ President Bryan Monroe, assistant vice president for news at Knight Ridder, "and we all need to make sure those words are not loaded with baggage and off-the-mark. Language does matter. If we can't be accurate, we're not doing our jobs."

The debate is not just one focused on Hispanics, added Ernie Suggs, NABJ vice president for print and a reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "At the same time blacks faced discrimination in the South, Hispanics -- particularly Mexicans -- faced similar discrimination in the Southwest," Suggs said. "This is an issue for all of us."

According to the U.S. Census, more than three million of the suspected 12-15 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. come from countries outside Mexico and Latin America, including Russia, Poland, Ireland, China, India and Canada.

The NABJ Stylebook -- a digital guide for language usage in newsrooms found online at -- also suggests more accurate terms such as "undocumented immigrant."

"On TV especially, what is said, along with what is seen, has a powerful impact on viewers," said Barbara Ciara, anchor and managing editor at WTKR in Norfolk and NABJ vice president for broadcast. "It's a matter of accuracy."

At the 1994 Unity convention, the four minority journalism groups -- NABJ, NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association -- issued a joint statement on the term "illegal aliens": "Except in direct quotations, do not use the phrase illegal alien or the word alien, in copy or in headlines, to refer to citizens of a foreign country who have come to the U.S. with no documents to show that they are legally entitled to visit, work or live here. Such terms are considered pejorative not only by those to whom they are applied but by many people of the same ethnic and national backgrounds who are in the U.S. legally."

George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at the University of California at Berkeley was quoted in the New York Times recently: "Metaphors repeated often enough eventually become part of your physical brain," he said. "Use the word 'illegal' often enough, which suggests criminal, which suggests immoral, and you have framed the issue of immigration to a remarkable degree."

NABJ members and journalists worldwide will gather this summer in Indianapolis to discuss these and other issues at its 31st Annual Convention & Career Fair, August 16-20 at the Indianapolis Convention Center. For more information, go to .

An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C., NABJ is the largest organization of journalists of color in the nation, with nearly 4,000 members, and provides educational, career development and support to black journalists worldwide.

Source: National Association of Black Journalists

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