An Open Letter to Journalists, Media Managers, and Media Owners

The Law in its majestic equality forbids the rich and poor alike, to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. - Anatole France

John Witeck's letter (see below) reminded us of the above quote from the French Nobel Laureate, in that it decried the treatment of some of the least powerful members of our community at the hands of some of the most powerful (the media).

Mr. Witeck reminds us that words matter and that words like "sweep" and repeated photographs, and footage of trash left after homeless persons are rousted from their encampments; convey derogatory and discriminatory images of people, who are our neighbors.

We agree that this sensationalizing treatment dehumanizes, demonizes, and robs people of their dignity! Words like "sweep" and lurid photos without interpretation should be consigned to the dustbin! We ask that this practice stop and that efforts be made to treat the subjects of these stories with respect and dignity.

Media Council Hawaii reminds all that the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethical Conduct admonishes:

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. ...Journalists should... show compassion for those who may be affected by new coverage.

We are pleased that the Honolulu Star-Advertiser published Mr. Witeck's letter in its Sunday, October 11, 2015 edition. Further, we are pleased that there has been some excellent journalism about these issues.

The Media are a powerful force in our community. This power should not be used against some of the most vulnerable of our neighbors. Please do no harm!

Thank you.

Chris Conybeare
Media Council Hawaii


John Witeck's Letter:

The word 'sweeps' demeans homeless

I was outraged seeing the headline that proclaimed, "Sweeps spur move to Kewalo Basin" (Star-Advertiser, Oct. 8).

The article discussed the removal of homeless individuals from Kakaako and their likely move to Kewalo Basin, where no doubt they would be similarly displaced in the future. Your use of "sweeps" in your coverage is frequent and unfortunate.

Th main definition of "sweep" is "to clean or clear, as of dirt, with a broom or brush." The use of this term depicts the homeless as dirt or vermin. It is clearly derogatory and demeans people whose economic misfortunes have caused them severe distress in Honolulu's high-priced housing market.

When the paper and media publicize how many pounds of trash and materials are removed, it dehumanizes the homeless even more.

Your paper, the broadcast media and our callous politicians should cease using the word "sweep" in regard to removing encampments of homeless families and individuals from public property.

John Witeck
Kamehameha Heights