Ethical journalism should give respect, despite legal status

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

TAYLOR MUNSELL, Channels Staff

Spray-painted on the walls of the Santa Barbara News Press office was, “the borders are illegal, not the people who cross them.”

The recent passing of Assembly Bill 60 allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license and is driving controversy. However, it’s the News Press referring to undocumented immigrants as ‘illegals’ that left this writer and many other locals appalled.

On January 3, the News Press published an article titled ‘Illegals line up for drivers licenses,’ a report on the passing of AB 60 just the day before. Days later, the News Press was vandalized and protests had been scheduled.

Given all of the controversy this headline sparked, I wondered why the News Press would have published it in the first place. The headline came off racist, disrespectful and unfair to undocumented immigrants.

This headline was used as a hook to attract attention— and it did just that.

While reading the article, I found it to be impartial which surprised me. It reported on the passing of AB 60 and mentioned potential spikes in the number of license applicants the DMV was expecting. The headline didn’t foreshadow the tone of the article in any way, suggesting it was put in place merely to grab readers, despite the feelings of others.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code, “Ethical journalism treats sources, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.” This headline addressed undocumented immigrants in a very offensive way, showing anything but respect for them.

The Ethics Code also stresses the importance of balancing the public’s right to information with limiting potential harm and discomfort.

It’s true, the purpose of the news is to inform and report but there is an amount of respect that must be considered while doing this.

Many readers argue that there’s no problem with addressing undocumented immigrants as “illegal” because they are living in this country illegally. While that may be true, it still doesn’t mean it is entirely appropriate to use that word as these people’s identifier.

The word ‘illegal’ is so closely linked to words like ‘felony’ or ‘criminal’. And while all those who live in the country and are not citizens are technically breaking the law, does that make them deserving of such a word? ‘Illegal’ is not all they are.

America prides itself on being the land of opportunity. It’s no wonder why people are moving here, legally or not. I’m not condoning people living here illegally but I do feel that because America was built on supporting the pursuit of a better life, we should stand by that principle.

Despite one’s personal sentiments, it is a basic human right to be respected by all. The News Press did not give undocumented immigrants that respect.

Legal or not, the right to respect still stands.