Study: Hispanic News Coverage Still Poor

June 20, 2005

Alex Branch

Federico Subervi recently watched a television news segment on a political candidate's efforts to appeal to Latino voters.

The news correspondent said, "Oh well, I guess he'll have to learn how to dance the mariachi."

That's just one example of network television news continuing to do a poor job covering Latinos, Subervi said Thursday at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' convention.

The results of a study released Thursday suggest that the networks did an even poorer job in 2004 than the year before.

Of the estimated 16,000 stories aired in 2004 on NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN evening newscasts, only 115 stories, or 0.72 percent, were exclusively about Latinos, according to the 2005 Network Brownout Report.

That's a decrease from 2003, when there were 131 stories, or 0.82 percent, the study said.

Latinos accounted for 58 percent of the country's population growth between 1990 and 2000, and they currently make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, the study said.

The latest findings are generally consistent with what the study has found every year since 1995, said Subervi, an author of the study.

"It continues to be appalling," said Subervi, an Austin-based media consultant and scholar. "To see this report and say 'Oh, maybe this is a one-time situation' is not the case."

The few times the networks did turn their cameras toward Latinos, more than 40 percent of stories were about immigration, the report found. About 12 percent were human-interest stories, 10 percent homeland security, 8 percent elections and politics, and 8 percent crime.

Immigration is an important topic, Subervi said, but those stories focus primarily on Latinos as a problem to society.

That "tells you the framework that American society is seeing, looking at and understanding who and what we are," he said.

On a positive note, only eight stories about Latinos were about crime. In seven of the past 10 years, more than 20 of the stories were about crime.

But the study also found that stories about Latinos were shorter in 2004; 33 percent lasted less than 30 seconds. That compared with 24 percent in 2003.

In political coverage, segments more often portrayed Latinos as commodities to be bought and traded by politicians rather than addressing important issues. Many stories simply focused on a candidate attempting to speak Spanish.

The lack of Latino reporters at the major networks is one reason coverage has not diversified, the study states.

Source: (c) 2005 Fort Worth Star Telegram. All Rights Reserved.