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Fighting prejudice, bigotry, hatred

The "ugly triplets" of prejudice, bigotry and hatred are "the dreadful children of ignorance," declared Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve at an Anti-Defamation League dinner Sept. 8.

The dinner honored Arch L. Madsen, former president of KSL radio and television stations in Salt Lake City and founding president and chief executive officer of the Church-owned Bonneville International Corp. for 20 years.He was presented the Anti-Defamation League's Torch of Liberty Award, which pays tribute to individuals dedicated to combating prejudice and discrimination. Brother Madsen of the Monument Park 15th Ward, Salt Lake Monument Park Stake, was described as a pioneer, a visionary and a champion of free speech and civic responsibility.

Brother Madsen spearheaded the organization of the National Conference of Christians and Jews' Salt Lake Chapter in the early 1960s. In 1983, he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the nine-member board for International Broadcasting, overseeing operation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Among those attending and addressing the awards dinner were Fred Friendly, past president of CBS News; Joe Cannon, president of Geneva Steel, where Brother Madsen serves on the board of directors; and Salt Lake lawyer Patrick Shea, co-chairman of the awards event.

In his address, Elder Oaks, who was an attorney and Utah Surpreme Court justice before he was called as a General Authority in 1984, referred to Brother Madsen as a standard-setter for the nation and the world. Elder Oaks offered what he termed "some serious personal thoughts on the rights and responsibilities of free speech."

He said the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a national leader in the rights and responsibilities of free speech. "This October marks the 80th anniversary of ADL's founding in those heated years preceding World War I," he said. "It was founded to combat ignorance, bigotry and hatred. Its declaration of purpose reminds us, `Prejudice is the child of ignorance. It knows no bounds, respects no individual, and violates the most sacred tenets of our democracy.'

"We still suffer from the effects of prejudice, bigotry and hatred," Elder Oaks said. "We honor a man - Arch Madsen - who has devoted his life to fighting ignorance and championing the responsible use of freedom. Arch is a man who understands, as the founders of the ADL understood, that we cannot perpetuate freedom without responsibility, and that one of the foremost responsibilities of television, radio, newspapers, and other media in a free society is to combat ignorance in order to eliminate prejudice, bigotry, and hatred.

". . . We must do all that we can to combat hatred and prejudice and to preserve the precious and fragile climate of mutual respect and tolerance."

Elder Oaks said mutual respect and tolerance are rooted in freedom and enshrined in lofty statements of rights, but freedom and rights cannot ensure them. "Mutual respect and tolerance can only be secured through the performance of individual and group responsibilities," he said. "And it is far more difficult to teach and fulfill responsibilities than it is simply to celebrate freedom and rights.

"I find it significant that the Ten Commandments, which form the bedrock moral base of our Judeo-Christian society, concern responsibilities, not rights. It is also significant that two of the Ten Commandments impose limits on free speech. (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.' [Ex. 20:7T, andThou shalt not bear false witness.' [Ex. 20:16.T) Even the vital freedom of speech must be used responsibly.

"In our society we have many who speak for freedom and rights. We have far fewer organizations and persons who are willing to define and advocate the responsibilities that are essential to the continuation of freedom and the enforcement of rights. This must be done if we are to preserve our freedoms and use them to bless one another in the world in which we live. All practitioners of free speech, especially the mass media, have a vital role in this."

He said just as the commandments characterize the moral purpose of Judeo-Christian society, so the central word of the ADL - defamation - characterizes the purpose of that organization. Defamation, he said, is defined by law. In Utah, it means a false statement that damages the reputation of an individual.

In earlier times, defamation was an almost face-to-face encounter, he noted, in which the defamed could immediately inform bystanders and get retractions or modifications by the speaker or other accommodation. Elder Oaks said that today, however, the most notorious defamations are remote and sometimes even anonymous. "They are most often spoken through television, the mass print media, the videotape, or the intrusive and impersonal electronic messages of computer networks or voice mail. Remoteness and anonymity generate some vexing problems of free speech responsibilities."

He said as a Church leader, he is aware of various individuals whose avowed purpose is to destroy or cripple the Church or to smear and significantly diminish the standing and effectiveness of some of its leaders. "These adversaries' instruments of destruction are the classic ones: false accusations, false information, and false ideas. However, in contrast to the simple and direct defamations of earlier years, in our high-tech time their false messages are carried by videotapes and books with slick packaging and a calculated appearance of objectivity. An unsophisticated viewer or reader can overlook the hateful motivation, excuse the one-sidedness, and misapply the old adage, `Where there is smoke there must be fire.' It is a damning process that rewards deceit and crushes innocence."

Elder Oaks said that for years he and some of his colleagues have tried to identify the best legal remedy to combat hateful lies told about public figures. They have discovered that in many instances for technical reasons the legal process that should provide a remedy for hateful lies and attempts to destroy an institution or diminish its leaders can fail in its corrective purposes.

Elder Oaks asked: "Since the law may be an inadequate instrument for dealing with the products and purveyors of hate, what are the remedies to protect society against the disease of hate without impairing the freedom of speech? The obvious answer is a responsible media and an educated citizenry. A responsible media will keep the products and purveyors of hate from having undue prominence in the public square and an educated citizenry will be relatively immune to the infection of hate."

He gave three suggestions for responsible media coverage. First, he said, it is important that the media not telecast, broadcast or print messages of hate or handle news stories in such a way as to encourage prejudice, bigotry, or hate.

Second, he said, it is important for all media representatives to remember that not every charge that is undenied is therefore admitted. "A person should not be expected to swat every biting fly, even the painful ones, when to do so would magnify a falsehood and distract him or her from more important pursuits," Elder Oaks said.

"My third suggestion on the responsibilities of free speech concerns the importance of being positive. Legal remedies cannot eliminate prejudice, bigotry and hatred. The best way to combat the speech and effects of hate is to stress the positive, even though that will not attract as many viewers and subscribers as the negative."

Years of experience as a network executive were reflected in remarks by Mr. Friendly, who said Brother Madsen is a crusader for good educational television, has contributed much to the industry, and has fought diligently against hatred and bigotry.

"He understood 50 years ago that television could be more than just lights and wires in a box," Mr. Friendly said. "He's still willing to make it do its best.

The former network executive spoke about the influence and state of broadcasting today: "Television makes so much money doing its worst that it can't afford to do its best."

In accepting the ADL's Torch of Liberty Award, Brother Madsen said he felt blessed to work with ADL. He credited his wife, Margaret, and his broadcasting colleagues, saying he is "merely a surrogate, a representative of the hundreds of others in our community that could and should be recognized for their work. Indeed, the greatest need in this world is to understand and be understood in a caring society."