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From the Field

What About the 'Other Media'?
By Verónica Villafañe

With all eyes on diversity in mainstream venues, a Hispanic journalist asks who's watching Spanish-Language media?

So often we hear about the need for diversity in the newsroom. There are constant complaints that there is a lack of color in the news, that discrimination still persists in the employment process. Yet, all eyes are focused on what is called mainstream media when talking about this problem. All research, all studies, all comments are directed toward the Anglo, or as I prefer to call it, English-language media. And that's fine. However, we're all overlooking a very important, fast-growing segment of the television world: Spanish-language media.

Who's watching them? There are currently two major networks, Univision and Telemundo, with a third in the works, coming from an alliance between Pappas Telecasting and TV Azteca, from Mexico. A regional network in the southwestern area, HTVN (Hispanic Television Network) and several independent stations around the country have also emerged, hungry to feed what is soon to become, according to census experts, the largest minority in the United States: Latinos.

We've seen Spanish-language television grow and improve with time. However, many of the problems of mainstream media also exist here. There is discrimination based on country of origin. The unspoken rule is if you want to work in New York, you have to be Puerto Rican; in Miami, Cuban; in Los Angeles, Mexican. There are exceptions, of course, since Peruvians, Colombians and Argentinians work in these markets, but many of my colleagues have felt the heat.

Even some viewers are displeased with the content and personalities of Spanish-language media. Roland Roebuck, Hispanic program director, and an Afro-Latino activist, wrote a harsh letter to the now former president of Univision.

Here's a small excerpt from that letter, dated March 16, 1998: "Bombarding your viewers with negative images of your darker-hued countrymen propagates the stereotypical notion that we are inferior and causes some among us to despise themselves. Failing to provide us equal and fair media exposure renders us invisible...." Roebuck points out that Afro-Latinos and "indigenous people" are only visible in "subservient" roles in Mexican novelas and other programming and absent from the anchor desks and newsrooms in both major Spanish-language networks.

For the past two years, he has been trying to get more Latino organizations involved in promoting change. "The Latino leadership, by not focusing on this issue, is also guilty of racism.

Yes, we are quick to criticize ABC, CBS, NBC, but when we get to our media we get into strategic amnesia. If you're going to advocate and be militant, look within the Œfamilia.' We're surrounded by hypocrisy." What is his proposed solution? The development of a group dedicated to studying, analyzing and monitoring Spanish-language media. That certainly seems reasonable. Univision and Telemundo have experienced growing pains throughout the years.

Now it's time to take a close look at who they are and who their audience is. Just as mainstream networks follow certain guidelines, so must they. It's time all Spanish-language stations take a step forward and it's up to the viewers to demand they meet their needs and expectations with professionalism and respect and to watchdog organizations to ensure they follow through with the same standards required of the major networks.

About the Author
Verónica Villafañe is an Emmy award-winning television writer and reporter, with more than 12 years of research and reporting experience. She is a journalism graduate from the University of the Saviour, in Argentina. She can be reached by e-mail