December 19, 2003

Latinos Remain Marginalized by Network News Coverage

Crime, Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Make Up Majority of Latino-Related Stories

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite the enormous growth of the nation’s Latino community, Latinos continued to be marginalized on the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC in 2002, according to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists eighth annual Network Brownout Report recently released.

The report found that out of approximately 16,000 stories that aired in 2002, only 120 - less than 1 percent (0.75) — were about Latinos. In 2001, only 99 stories (0.62 percent) were about Latinos. Hispanics now make up more than 13 percent of the nation’s population.

“This year’s report once again highlights the dismal progress the networks have made in their coverage of the nation’s Hispanic community,” said NAHJ President Juan Gonzalez, a columnist with the New York Daily News. “When Latinos are covered by the networks, the stories are too often unbalanced and fail to accurately reflect the role that Latinos play in the United States.

This year’s study found that two-thirds of all Latino-related stories that aired on the network news were about crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. There were 47 stories alone dealing with Latinos as either perpetrators or victims of crime. Of those crime stories, more than half were about kidnapping. The kidnapping and murder of five-year-old Samantha Runnion (18 stories) in California, and the subsequent arrest of Alejandro Avila for the crime, dominated that coverage.

Terrorism and the arrest of Jose Padilla for allegedly seeking to detonate a “dirty bomb” made up the second largest number of stories with 21. There were 11 stories about illegal immigration.

“The network’s emphasis on crime, terrorism and immigration is troublesome since these institutions play a critical role in defining public perceptions and opinions in American society,” said Serafín Méndez-Méndez, co-author of this year’s study.

This year’s study found several significant improvements. The use of Latinos as interview subjects increased. Out of 120 Latino-related stories that aired in 2002, 89 stories (74 percent) featured interviews with Latinos, with ABC leading the other networks by a noticeable margin. In 2001, 68 percent of Latino-related stories featured interviews with Latinos.

The average length of Latino-related stories increased from an average of two minutes and 25 seconds in 2001 to two minutes and 51 seconds in 2002, with the length of CNN stories far surpassing the other networks. Of the four networks, ABC led the way with more balanced coverage of Latinos and with stories on a wider range of topics.

For the first time, several network correspondents covered the Latino-related stories a number of times, allowing them to become more knowledgeable about issues affecting the Latino community. ABC’s Judy Muller filed the most with six stories.

For the third consecutive year, the Network Brownout Report included a qualitative analysis of Latino-related news stories. And for the first time, NAHJ conducted focus groups in New York and Los Angeles to supplement the qualitative analysis.

The qualitative analysis found that Latinos continued to be portrayed as a dysfunctional underclass that exists on the fringes of mainstream U.S. society. Despite the growth of the Latino middle class and resources, Latinos were often depicted as living in poverty and as criminals. Illegal immigrants were depicted as a security threat to the country.

The focus groups of Latino viewers commented that the portrayal of Latinos was often stereotypical, with poverty, anti-social behavior and immigration being the most common themes in Latino-related stories.

NAHJ is concerned about the effect unbalanced news coverage of the Latino community will have on the majority of U.S. television viewers whose main source of news and information comes from watching television.

NAHJ believes the lack of Latinos working in network newsrooms and in broadcast management is a major reason for the poor coverage of the Latino community. For several years, NAHJ has called on the networks to report annually the racial and ethnic make up of their newsrooms. The networks have so far refused the association’s request.

The report was prepared by Serafín Méndez-Méndez, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., and Diane Alverio, a communication consultant and co-owner of Baldwin/Alverio Media Marketing, a media research, marketing and public relations firm.

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