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City Council urges ‘responsible speech’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque city councilors this week called on local media organizations to use “responsible speech” and avoid “derogatory language and inaccurate representation of marginalized groups.”

The bill, sponsored by Rey Garduño, won approval on a 5-3 party-line vote – Democrats in the majority – after about a dozen people testified in favor of it.

The measure doesn’t identify any particular words or phrases as “irresponsible,” but several supporters of the measure objected to use of the phrase “illegal immigrant” in news reports to describe a person living in a country without legal permission.

Some also raised concerns about how transgender people are described.

Garduño said in an interview that he wants to encourage local media to avoid “derisive” language, regardless of whether it’s aimed at people on the political left or right.

Peter Simonson of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico spoke against Garduño’s bill.

Despite good intentions, he said, “we don’t believe it’s the place of government officials to urge the press and the community at large to censor their speech. … The most effective way to confront offensive or disrespectful speech is to counter with more, positive speech. That’s not a government role. That’s the role of the private citizen.”

Councilors approved the bill with support from Garduño, Isaac Benton, Ken Sanchez, Diane Gibson and Klarissa Peña, all Democrats. Opposed were Republicans Don Harris, Trudy Jones and Dan Lewis. Councilor Brad Winter was absent.

The measure was written as a memorial, meaning it states the will of the council but doesn’t formally establish city policy or go to the mayor.

The bill urges the managers of local media “to do everything in their power to ensure that their on-air hosts and journalists use responsible speech.” It concludes by saying that “derogatory language and inaccurate representation of marginalized groups used in print, radio, television, or internet based media has no place in the City of Albuquerque.”

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