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 familia.'
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