Politicians to Examine Media: California Assembly Committee to Hold Hearings on Media Coverage of the Los Angeles Riots; Journalists Invited to Testify

Article excerpt

A California Assembly committee has scheduled an unusual hearing on the media coverage of the Los Angeles riots, a move that several journalists greeted warily.

Committee staff members said print and broadcast media representatives will be invited to testify, but the body does not intend to use its subpoena power.

The July 31 hearing in Los Angeles by the Assembly Special Committee on the Los Angeles Crisis "will focus on the coverage of news and events that occurred before, during and following the uprising in Los Angeles," a spokeswoman said.

A committee announcement said it would hear from journalists, mediawatch groups and "university-based scholars."

The committee is chaired by Democrat Curtis R. Tucker, Jr. of Inglewood, a community that was hit hard by the burning and looting during the late April riots.

A committee counsel, Angela E. Oh, told E&P that the hearing "is not intended as a critique of the media, but we will be looking at making a record of how the media influences people's attitudes. We are not interested in an explanation of what happened. We are seeking new solutions and the removal of obstacles that stand in the way of these solutions."

Tucker's committee also will hold hearings on other aspects of the riots, including race relations, urban planning, education and "Rebuilding Los Angeles."

The idea of a governmental body questioning the media on its coverage drew a cautious reaction from editors and others interviewed by E&P.

"Unfortunately, this is a typical government response to a problem," said Jim Box, editor of the Copley Los Angeles Newspapers.

"I don't have a problem with [the hearing]. We are certainly open to criticism, but I hope this isn't merely another chance for someone to feel good about bashing the media. I hope the hearing will be constructive."

John Irby, president of the California Society of Newspaper Editors, said he sees a problem only if subpoenas are issued and/or media witnesses are asked to reveal confidential sources.

However, Irby, who is publisher and editor of the Tulare Advance-Register, took issue with Oh's statement about media influence.

"The media's role is not to influence but to report the news and let people make their own decisions," he remarked. Irby, too, expressed some fear that the hearing might become a vehicle for slapping the press.

"Media bashing has become very trendy lately," he observed. "The idea of the hearing itself is not terribly disturbing. The question is how it will be carried out."

Los Angeles AP bureau chief Andy Lippmann said he wants more information about the committee's objectives before agreeing to participate in the hearing.

"I don't know what they're looking for," he explained. "It may be perfectly worthwhile. If I can learn how I can improve coverage of my staff, I am all for it."

Terry Francke, executive director of the California Freedom of Information Committee, also indicated apprehension about the committee's purpose. "The idea of the hearing is not necessarily sinister but the committee should realize one thing: A combination of arson, looting and vandalism will be heavily covered," Francke said.

"There i s a line of argument among some people that if you don't give events such as the riots nonstop coverage, the rioters will not persist. …