Guest Column

Clear Channel fires Chicago radio host

By Robert Miranda
Milwaukee Spanish Journal
"Taking Sides"
January 26, 2005

Last week it was reported by the Chicago Sun Times, that a popular talk-show host, Java Joel (Joel Murphy), was fired from Clear Channel’s WKSC-FM (103.5) for telling a racially charged joke on the air that offended African Americans.

The radio host was immediately terminated from his position and Clear Channel regional representatives issued a statement saying that Murphy’s comments were “inappropriate.”

Joel Murphy, known as Java Joel, was honored for his work by the Illinois Broadcasters Association’s Silver Dome Award for “Best Local Radio Station Personality of the Year” a few years ago.

Furthermore, Joel Murphy’s program, known as the “Rubber Room,” was broadcasted to other cities around the country such as Cleveland,
Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Kentucky, Jacksonville, Florida, and Rochester, New York by Clear Channel stations.

The article in the Chicago Sun Times states that Murphy’s show had a weekly audience of over 400,000 listeners.

It is clear that Clear Channel can move swiftly and decisively when it wants to against its employees. The question is, why haven’t they acted so swiftly and decisively against Milwaukee’s biggest and best known hate mongering bigot?

There have been comments made by, mainly liberals, that the need to defend free speech must be preserved and defended at all cost.  That speech no matter how wicked and insidious must be allowed to be spewed onto the public. That free speech is one privilege we have that can help us measure and preserve our fundamental liberty and democracy.

Well, I can’t agree with this notion that we must not remove bigotry from our public airwaves. Frankly, the free speech argument is used as a means to stifle public efforts to regulate commercial uses of our public airwaves. The reality is freedom of the press belongs to he or she who owns the presses. As a matter of ethics, morally offensive language should not be tolerated. Removing it from our public airwaves is not attacking freedom of speech. It is defending human rights and dignity.

The issues at hand are: 1) Clear Channel's corporate responsibility to the community to not promote hatred and bigotry, and 2) public control of public airwaves versus the right of Clear Channel to use the public airwaves as a corporate tool to profit from by promoting ethnic bigotry.

Indeed, the truth of the matter is, had Mark Belling uttered this racist language in San Antonio or some other Southwestern city with a large number of Latinos/Mexicans, his filthy and wild language would have been out the door in a heart beat.

To be sure, I’ll defend Mr. Belling’s constitutional right to say what he wants. In fact, I’ll get him a wooden box so that he can stand on it so that he can say the kinds of things he says about Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Blacks, women, gays and lesbians on the street. But giving Belling a venue on our public airwaves [used for commercial purposes] to spew this morally offensive language, is an injustice to the cause of justice and sacredness of humanity.

Finally, I will reiterate the questions published by the Shepherd Express newspaper last week: “Why did Clear Channel act so decisively and fire Java Joel, who by all counts was a much bigger producer for Clear Channel, and not fire Mark Belling?

Was it because Java Joel’s slur was directed toward African Americans just days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day? Does Clear Channel view its
Chicago market as more sophisticated than its Milwaukee market and less tolerant of racism? Did the advertisers on Java Joel’s program in Chicago scream louder than the advertisers on Belling’s program? Does Clear Channel feel it’s OK to sling racial slurs at Latinos but not African Americans? Did the non-Latino elected officials and civic leaders in Chicago overwhelmingly denounce Java Joel’s racial comments, causing Clear Channel to act decisively, whereas Milwaukee’s civic leaders were more passive? We now know that Clear Channel can do the right thing when they see a portion of society attacked and humiliated by racial slurs, so why is Belling still on the air?”