Taking his fight for parity in investigating missing black children on a national front, the Rev. Ira J. Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church appeared on ABC’s The View Friday to discuss the disparity of media coverage between black and white missing children.
Acree, a cousin to teen Yasmin Rayon Acree who went missing Jan. 15, 2008, was accompanied by Rose Starnes, Yasmin’s mother, who later told Challenge News he blames the predominately white-controlled male media for a lack of sensitivity in covering missing black children.
And he believes it’s time for the restoration of the Federal Communication Commission’s minority tax certificate — a program that used tax incentives to increase minority ownership of radio and TV stations from 1978 to 1995.
If this program were restored, Acree said there would be diversity in the newsrooms so when a story like missing Yasmin comes across the wire, it would be covered like the other high-profile missing person cases.
Before going on The View, Acree read reports from The American Society of Newspaper Editors that discussed the disparity in reporting missing black vs. white children. “Initially, (we) were very stunned and shocked by the lack of national attention for Yasmin and other black children, but when we researched it, there are probably reasons behind this,” Acree said.
“The national media is dominated by white males even though the minority population is 28 percent; out of all the newsroom employees, minorities only make up 13 percent, and minorities only own 3 percent of TV ownership and 7 percent of radio. We are truly a minority voice,” he said.
“I don’t think it may be intentional racism, but it is because of the cultural background of the white males who dominate the industry and their natural comfort zone” that may be the problem, Acree said.
At the time Yasmin disappeared, Starnes filed a police report. But Acree said because the initial investigating officer “inaccurately classified Yasmin as a runaway rather than missing,” efforts to find her were delayed.
Because of that erroneous classification, Acree said they were unable to get media coverage except the Austin Weekly News, which covered a prayer vigil. Acree said Channel 5 came out but explained because the police classified her as a runaway, they couldn’t do much with the story.
That prompted Acree and Starnes to file a complaint with the Chicago Police Department Internal Affairs Division. Ultimately, the runaway classification was dismissed and Yasmin was labeled a missing person; however, that was a year later. In the interim, many “missteps” were made by the police, Acree said pointing out the first 48-hours after a person is missing are crucial.
Starnes’ home had been broken into that day including the cutting of a lock that was never confiscated by the police. Starnes continues to believe her daughter’s abduction was targeted and that the break-in was planned “since the only thing missing” was her youngest child, Yasmin, whose bedroom was in the basement.
“I do believe there is a disparity between the investigations of black and white missing children,” Starnes said.
“You hear a lot in the media, how they are searching for that child, but when whites are missing, they do more. There are a lot of black children missing, but we don’t hear anything about it,” said the mother of four.
“I think that attributes to these innocent children being put in harm’s way,” Acree said.
“We are victimized by the white-dominated male media,” he said.
That’s why Acree thinks the Federal Communications Commission should restore the minority tax certificate program that allowed cable owners to sell to minority owners for a tax break.
“I think that would be very helpful. It would make for a safer and better America for everyone,” Acree said.
“When you have diversity in the media, that would give them incentive” to cover minorities, and when a child is missing, Acree said, it’s critical to let the public know.
“If there is more diversity, I think we’ll have a better share of everybody getting a fair share of media exposure. And restoring the FCC minority tax certificate would help the public to have a role in locating missing children.”
(The Beachwood Reporter had a different take on this issue. The Beachwood writes this case has actually been covered more extensively, especially by the Chicago Tribune which has published 11 stories. One piece last March outlined failures by the police and revealed new evidence located by Tribune reporters.)