Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal listen to the suggestion of The Indian Panorama editor Prof. Saluja at the Ethnic Media Roundtable at City Hall on February 17. Photo/ William Alatriste for the City Council
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal listen to the suggestion of The Indian Panorama editor Prof. Saluja at the Ethnic Media Roundtable at City Hall on February 17. Photo/ William Alatriste for the City Council

NEW YORK CITY (TIP): Mayor Bill de Blasio on Feb. 17 pledged that the city would spend more than $9 million in “language access” programs including translation and interpretation services in 2016, and that the city’s ad buys in community and ethnic media, which tripled in 2015 from 2013, were on track to outpace last year’s level of $1.3 million.

He also said that members of the community and ethnic press would gain more ready access to city officials, noting that three seats would be reserved for community and ethnic media representatives at the City Hall press room. [The City Hall press office clarified that “three available desks will be rotated to accommodate different outlets, based on request volume.]

While saying that he wanted to be careful about making a “blanket pledge” about meeting any and all requests from the ethnic media, Mayor de Blasio said that the city was dedicated to “deepening” its relationship with these diverse media outlets. “My goal is to consistently do more,” he said.

“We are the ultimate city of immigrants. We honor that fact and know that it’s essential to our greatness and that means we need to communicate with people” in a way that they trust, said the mayor. In the past, he said, “New York City government too often attempted to basically communicate with the people of New York City only through traditional mainstream media and didn’t understand the power of community and ethnic media.”

Now, he said, “we’re going to start changing that reality and we’re going to deepen these changes over the next few years. We aim to reach all of the people with everything we do.” On matters from pre-K seats to IDNYC to taking advantage of the earned income tax credit, de Blasio said, the city wants people in diverse communities to be well-informed, and the way to ensure that is through “pushing out more information to all of you than we have in the past.”

With City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on his right and the Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal to his left, the mayor addressed and took questions from more than 50 members of the community and ethnic press in a standing room-only briefing held in the Blue Room at City Hall. Mark-Viverito and Agarwal also addressed the group.

Mark-Viverito said she understood the role that community and ethnic media play in the city, and was “very passionate” about developing a strong partnership with that media, since she is bilingual and bicultural, gets her information from many media, and herself was once a journalist at WBAI. She noted that she had named the first-ever director of media diversity relations for the City Council, Juana Ponce de Leon. The Council speaker said she was “very excited” about the city’s efforts, that this is “just a beginning” and conceded that “it’s overdue – let’s be clear about that.” During questioning from the community and ethnic press, the mayor took notes and told some individual reporters that he would be sure to have their particular questions or complaints about prior inattention addressed. Agarwal, who described some of the city’s new initiatives to improve language access, such as inviting residents to dial 311 with complaints if interpretation services were found wanting, said that “we want to be held accountable in how we are bridging the language barrier.”

Prof. Indrajit S Saluja, Editor of The Indian Panorama underscored the need to provide press releases to ethnic newspapers in their languages. He said many South Asian language newspapers fail to carry important City information only because they have no in house translators to translate press releases which are in English or Spanish.

Following the end of the briefing, which lasted nearly an hour, press officers from numerous city agencies circulated among the ethnic and community media, inviting them to make contact.

(With Voices of New York)