Academic journal article Centro Journal

Free ÓScar López Rivera!: News Coverage of United States Domestic Human Rights Issues

Academic journal article Centro Journal

Free ÓScar López Rivera!: News Coverage of United States Domestic Human Rights Issues

Article excerpt

"We support the cause of anyone who is fighting for self-determination, and our attitude is the same, no matter who it is. I would be honored to sit on the platform with the four (Puerto Rican) comrades whom you refer to."

Nelson Mandela, New York Times 22 June 1990

After 34 years in prison-since 1981 -the demand for clemency for Puerto Rican Óscar López Rivera has intensified. López Rivera was a member of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional or FALN (Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation) that promoted Puerto Rico's independence from the United States. In the 1980s the nationalist leader, along with other dozen members of the group, were convicted of seditious conspiracy, in relation with bombings in Chicago and New York. Press reports indicate that López Rivera was convicted even though, during the trial, the prosecution could not tie him to injuring or killing anybody (Jamalil 2015; Bauer 2014). In 1999, clemency was granted for most of the prisoners, but López Rivera, a Vietnam War Veteran, rejected the pardon because other FALN members were not considered for release at the time (Ramirez 2011).

In 2013 and 2014, numerous protests were celebrated off and online under the slogan "Libertad para Óscar López Rivera" (Spanish for "Freedom for Óscar López Rivera"). The campaign has drawn attention of Puerto Rico's national press. In the United States, however, national papers have seldom covered the manifestations in cultural gatherings that celebrate the Puerto Rican community or when prominent Puerto Rican leaders make expressions about the political prisoner. President Barack Obama is said to consider granting clemency to López Rivera before he steps down in 2016 (El Nuevo Día 2014; EFE 2015; Rosario 2016).

The movement in favor of the amnesty for Óscar López Rivera has rallied for the cause in Puerto Rico and the United States. This research will examine the news coverage of this human rights issue in mainland elite newspapers the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune; Miami-based Spanish language newspaper El Nuevo Herald, and the Island's major circulation newspaper El Nuevo Día. The extent of the coverage in the United States could significantly influence the success of the movement to liberate a US citizen from political imprisonment and the salience of the issue in the media.

The purpose of this study is to examine the attention the campaign to seek presidential pardon for Óscar López Rivera has received by key news media outlets in the United States. The New York Times represents elite media channels that influence policy and public opinion in the country and abroad (Caliendo, Gibney and Payne 1999; Ovsiovitch 1993). The Chicago Tribune is an elite newspaper that happens to operate where López Rivera became a community leader and activist and that was convicted for events that transpired there. El Nuevo Herald was chosen as a leading Spanish language newspaper that serves the Latino community in Miami, Florida. Finally, El Nuevo Día was selected as a benchmark to identify events related to the campaign to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners. Specifically, this study aims to identify the themes and types of stories (hard or soft news) these newspapers cover in relation to Puerto Rico and the tone of the stories related to Óscar López Rivera. The author's assumption is that the coverage is scarce and mostly negative.

Background and Literature Review

News coverage of human rights related to United States territories and its diaspora influences public opinion and impacts policy development (Ovsiovitch 1993). The current state of the protectorates is oblivious to the general market media and the US audience in general. For instance, sovereignty and citizenship issues trouble jurisdictions such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa, yet the national media seldom address these human rights situations.

The ties between the United States and Puerto Rico promoted a massive migration toward the mainland after World War II. …

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