City Council debates ‘community media’ and BSA records

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As upper-class New Yorkers fled New York City last spring, many others had no choice but to stay, work and hope for the best. Many of them had only their local ethnic media outlet to turn to for guidance and support. 

Whether Spanish, Bangladeshi, Chinese, or Mexican, these outlets were crucial in many neighborhoods. Now Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez is sponsoring a bill to support these outlets with half of the city’s advertising budget, keeping ethnic, non-English-speaking communities informed while at the same time giving ad revenue to local newspapers that are, more often than not, free.  

“It’s time for the City to give respect to all New Yorkers,” Rodriguez said at a City Council hearing Tuesday. “Including those 35% that have been born and raised in other countries.” 

Introduction 2313 will codify an executive order issued two years ago that ensures that 50% of the city’s advertising budget flows to local newspapers. This proposed Office of Community and Ethnic Media would ensure that city agencies place advertisements in local, non-English publications as well as in more mainstream outlets. 

These local publications are integral towards keeping New York’s diverse ethnic communities informed and safe, according to testimony from Rodriguez and a number of speakers. 

The people in these communities “speak a different language, but they work. They pay taxes,” said Rodriguez, who was, notably, the only council member to repeat his remarks in Spanish. He argued that these communities deserve reliable, affordable news sources – in their language. Compared to its advertising support of other publications, the lack of support the City has given these papers amounts to “an institutional injustice,” said Council Member Fernando Cabrero. 

Other speakers were no less emphatic. Without these papers, “all of New York City’s diverse communities will suffer,” said Gail Smith, CEO of Impacto Latino. 

And it’s not just non-English outlets that will benefit from the legislation – so too will papers such as the Red Hook Star-Revue and The Rockaway Times.

“The internet’s free, except people need access to the internet, and they don’t necessarily have it,” said Kevin Boyle, publisher of the Rockaway Times, a local paper that is wholly reliant upon advertising – including that which the City can partially provide. 

“During the pandemic, we cried together, but we have never stopped bringing in information, understanding that this was our duty,” said Luciano Vasquez, head of Aloha Luciano Live. 

The hearing also discussed Introduction 2257, a piece of legislation that aims to record, and make more readily accessible, all decisions made by the Board of Standards and Appeals. This legislation would make it easier for property owners to check their title against the Board’s records. 

Some on the Council objected. 

“We pass laws that are solutions in search of problems,” said Council Member Kalman Yeger. “Is this really necessary?” 

To this, Margarey Perlmutter, Chairman of the Board of Standards and Appeals, answered, unequivocally, “Yes.”