One language, many voices

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Spanish Language Media: Is it serving the Hispanic community? That was the question posed for a panel at the National Media Reform Conference.

Mario Duarte, founder of La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language newspaper in the Twin Cities, spoke about the trust level that Latinos have in the Latino press, and the importance of getting out into the communities and talking to people. He cited the example of Worthington, Minnesota, after last year’s immigration raids. Local residents had a higher trust level in Spanish-language media. And the media felt an obligation to serve the community, assisting in relief efforts for shattered families.

Inez González of the National Hispanic Media Coalition focused on broadcast media, citing the key role of Spanish-language deejays in organizing the massive 2006 march in Los Angeles, uniting to spread the word and call on people to wear white for peace, bring their families, and pick up trash to leave the streets cleaner than they found them. The march, and subsequent marches and demonstrations around the country, opposed punitive immigration legislation.

But there are problems, González said. She warned against exploitative deejays who broadcast shock stories and obscenity, saying that her organization files complaints with FCC when they are made aware of these abuses, because the FCC does not understand the language or monitor these broadcasts adequately. Children’s educational programming is another weak spot—Univision tried to say that telenovelas (soap operas) with children in them were educational programming. The FCC disagreed and imposed a large fine.

Another issue is the predominance of white or light-skinned faces and exclusion of brown faces. This is part of the growing domination of Spanish-language news media by media moguls and conglomerates.

Ronald Gordon, is the co-founder and owner of ZGS Productions, the largest group of Telemundo-affiliated stations. He emphasized the need for local programming, local news, and programs that serve local communities. For example, if a local community is Puerto Rican or Salvadoran, the station would carry programs with news from Puerto Rico or El Salvador. In addition to news,

Gordon pointed out that some stations offer primarily programming produced abroad. He believes that local programming is important because immigrants in the United States have issues that are specific to their situation. But programming is just one part of connecting to the community. The stations also do uch promotional work in the communities they serve. La Feria de la Familia is an annual promotional event that provides both educational and entertainment value. Other initiatives include Leer Para Vencer (promoting reading), La Buena Vida (emphasizing health and civic participation), Voto Por Tu Futuro (voter registration and get-out-the-vote, and celebrations of Hispanic heritage.

Federico Subervi of Texas State University has studied how Latinos are portrayed in mainstream media and also how Spanish-language media serve the community. He was part of the research team that blew the whistle on Univisión about their lack of children’s programming.

The Latinos and Media project has discovered a complete lack of service to local communities by some Spanish-language stations across the country. Some—like the stations that Gordon talked about—serve their communities. On the other hand, a study last year focused on 17 full-time radio stations in Central Texas, around San Antonio. San Antonio itself is more than half Latino and the area covered by the study is more than one-third Latino.

“How many minutes of local news programming in Spanish do those 17 stations provide each week?” Subervi asked. The answer: zero. Not a single minute of local news programming. He pointed out other failures to serve the community: emergency warning signals broadcast only in English, though all of the other programming is in Spanish. The result, he said, is that there is no warning of tornadoes or flash floods or other emergency situations for the Spanish-language audiences.

In response to questions, Subervi emphasized that there are different types of Latino media—corporate-owned, independent, community-oriented Latino media. There is not a single model of Latino media. We cannot generalize that Latino media are not serving their communities—it depends on which service and which media.