KATV news station based in Little Rock is under fire again after two white news anchors conducted a segment in afro wigs, celebrating the drop in temperatures to the “70’s”
The Daily Mail reported that they suspended anchor Chris May and meteorologist Barry Brandt for wearing the wigs during the 10pm newscast on September 16, according to the Washington Post.
Their segment, dubbed ‘return to the 70s’ – where on-air personalities sported looks popular in the 1970s – was intended as a way to celebrate a return to 70-degree weather after 90F heat wave all summer and a triple-digit day early in September.
Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns the station, fired its longtime news director Nick Genty, and indefinitely suspended May and Brandt.
In a statement to TV Spy, a spokesperson for the station said: ‘It was determined through our investigation into the recent events at KATV that swift action was important to hold the responsible parties accountable.
‘We are also implementing further training for sensitivity and workplace conduct, in line with our commitment to ensuring events like this don’t happen again.
Soon after the segment aired, the Arkansas Times reports, local activist Anika Whitfield complained to KATV management, saying she was ‘not amused’ by the segment and that a white person wearing an afro wig is a perpetuation of ‘systemic racism.’
When she did not receive a response to her formal complaint Whitfield reached out to John Seabers, a Sinclair Broadcast Group vice president and group manager that oversees local stations in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma, who got back to her quickly.
‘We apologize to all viewers who were rightfully offended by the segment, and we promise to enact and enforce new measures to prevent future incidents from occurring,’ he said in a statement.
Seabers also met with members of the Central Arkansas Association of Black Journalists in the aftermath to once again apologize for the incident.
He was joined by regional news director Blaise Labbe, a black man who is temporarily taking over at KATV for Genty while the company searches for a replacement.
They did not offer any excuses for the incident and criticized what had happened, according to the Times.
Seabers called the wig segment ‘abhorrent’ and ‘juvenile’ in his discussion with the association, while Labbe said it was ‘stupid,’ and added that he was especially angry because the KATV staff completed two racial sensitivity training sessions in the six weeks preceding the wig segment.
‘How in the hell could this happen?’ he asked rhetorically.
The controversial segment came weeks after KATV executives responded to an employee’s report of a Mammy doll – a racist caricature of a black woman – hanging in a cubicle shared by photographers and reporters.
‘We wholeheartedly condemn any actions that don’t represent our values of diversity and inclusion and remain committed to ensuring that our newsrooms serve as a welcoming and safe place for all backgrounds and ideas.’
The company investigated the doll in June, but did not figure out who put the doll there or why, although Seabers acknowledged to the Post that the doll was ‘racist and offensive.’
Because of the situation, he said, managers in July made a formal presentation to all KATV employees, training them in inclusion and hidden bias.
Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, tweeted that she had asked Seabers and Labbe about the doll in their meeting, and noted that the station employs more than 40 people, only eight of whom are black.
That accounts for less than 20 percent of the staff in a city with a population that’s 42 percent black.
In response, Seabers told the Post he would like KATV to hire more black journalists and noted that Sinclair recruits at 18 historically black colleges and universities to make that happen.
But, he said, some black college students may not view journalism as a viable career choice if they do not see people like them on TV.
‘We’re trying to encourage minorities to realize … that journalism is a career field for them,’ he told the Washington Post.