How Spanish-Language Media Lend Clout to the Hispanic Vote

News Personalities Voice Viewpoints and Play Key Role in Mobilizing Demo

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NEW YORK ( -- As the major TV networks unwrapped slates of comedies and dramas at last week's upfront, Telemundo unveiled a vast voter-registration campaign and a new "Meet the Press"-style show called "Enfoque" to keep the Spanish-language TV network at the forefront of the U.S. presidential debate. "The Hispanic vote will make a difference in the next elections," said Jorge Hidalgo, exec VP-news and sports at the NBC Universal-owned network.
Immigration protest, L.A. 2006
2006: Radio-show hosts and local network affiliates helped mobilize more than half a million protesters in Los Angeles to rally against proposed immigration reform.

Companion Pieces:

Political Influencers
How Spanish-Language Outlets Are Affecting Issues
Courting Hispanic Voters
Presidential Candidates Reach Out to Latino Voters

With a little help from the media, that is. Spanish-language media famously use their muscle to mobilize crowds, demand change and stir Hispanics to take an active part in U.S. politics. That includes campaigns to promote citizenship and voting that are helping boost Latinos' political clout. Hispanics make up 17.3% of registered voters in California and 8.7% in New York.

Surging political power
Though Latinos in the U.S. traditionally have had low voter turnout, their political influence is growing along with their numbers. The Latino vote has grown nearly 50% in the past decade, and Latino voter registration has increased one-third since 1996, according to an April 2007 report from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund, a nonpartisan outreach group.

This growth was more evident during the 2004 presidential elections, when more than 7.5 million Latinos voted. Some political experts predict the Hispanic vote could represent more than 10% of the total vote in 2008, compared with 8.5% in 2004.

The media is playing a crucial role in all of this. Unlike their mainstream-media counterparts, Spanish-language TV anchors, print reporters and radio personalities take up issues affecting Latinos, going beyond traditional newsgathering to influence the news itself.

Reporters become participants
Consider a pro-immigration rally last year in downtown Los Angeles, where police dispersed the crowd of thousands by hitting marchers with batons and shooting rubber bullets. Among the injured was Telemundo evening-news anchor Pedro Sevcec, who was knocked to the ground by police.

"We went from covering the news to being part of the news," Mr. Hidalgo said. The network quickly filled the airwaves with firsthand accounts of the commotion, and dozens of outraged Hispanic journalists nationwide joined in. The incident prompted Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to cut short a trip to Latin America and replace the officer in charge with a Latino police veteran.

During the spring 2006 immigration rallies, radio-show hosts in Los Angeles helped mobilize more than half a million protesters in the city. The nation's largest Spanish-language paper, La Opinión, ran a three-word front-page headline screaming: "A la calle!" (To the streets!). Local affiliates of Spanish-language networks Univision, Telemundo and Azteca América used news programs to drum up further support.

Earlier this year, NALEO joined forces with Univision, the largest Spanish-language TV network, and ImpreMedia, the nation's largest chain of Spanish-language newspapers, to launch "Ya Es Hora" (It's About Time), a campaign in Southern California designed to mobilize their audiences to become U.S. citizens.

Help to gain citizenship
As part of the initiative, ImpreMedia-owned La Opinión ran an insert in February explaining to readers how to become citizens, and the effort included a bilingual hotline for questions about gaining citizenship. "We receive between 10 and 15 questions daily," said Pedro Rojas, executive editor of La Opinión. A special section on features a bilingual naturalization guide, produced by NALEO, as well as a link to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The drive, which also included TV and radio messages, has already proved successful. "In only four months, we were able to motivate 70,000 people to apply for U.S. citizenship," said Marcelo Gaete, a senior director of NALEO. "Ya Es Hora" will be implemented in the New York area in the next week or so, according to the parties involved.

Both Telemundo and Azteca America, a Spanish-language network that is a distant third to Univision and Telemundo, are likely to overhaul their public service announcements and initiatives regarding Latinos in politics.
Hillary: Like Barack Obama, Clinton has a campaign site aimed at Latino voters.
Hillary: Like Barack Obama, Clinton has a campaign site aimed at Latino voters.

Telemundo, which in 2006 launched "Encrucijada Migratoria," a segment dedicated to comprehensive daily coverage of the immigration issue, is this year expanding the effort and adding two more initiatives leading up to the 2008 election. The first one is "Vota por Nuestro Futuro" (Vote for Our Future), a local and national push for U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent who are not yet registered to vote. The effort, starting in the fourth quarter, will have a strong TV component but will also include online and grass-roots initiatives in partnership with community organizations.

"The Latino vote is going to be extremely important in this upcoming election," Mr. Hidalgo said, "and we want to make sure Telemundo will be there to provide this service to our viewers."

"Enfoque," which will be hosted every Sunday morning by journalist José Díaz-Balart, will feature comprehensive coverage and panel discussions on politics in general and the immigration issue in particular.

Getting the vote out
Azteca America in November 2006 launched "Tu Voto Cuenta" (Your Vote Counts), an initiative endorsed by Grace F. Napolitano, president of the Hispanic Caucus, among others, that urged Latinos to vote in the midterm elections. The series of PSAs included messages from Luis Echarte, president of the network, and U.S. Senator Harry Reid, who told Hispanics: "Voting gives you a voice in affordable housing. Voting gives you a voice in immigration. Voting gives you a voice."

Azteca América also will produce a daily political segment from Washington for its national newscast. The segment will focus on educating Hispanics about politics, voter registration and reaching out to their representatives in Washington.

Finally, Univision, during its May 16 upfront in New York City, announced the launch of "Al Punto," a Sunday-morning commentary show hosted by award-winning journalist and news anchor Jorge Ramos, dubbed the Brian William of Hispanic TV.

"All these efforts will amount to a significant growth in potential voters in the next election," said Adam J. Segal, president of the 2050 Group, a Washington public-relations and advertising firm. Mr. Segal pointed to the participation of Latino media personalities, something rarely seen in mainstream media. "I don't recall seeing Katie Couric or Brian Williams recording public service announcements," he said.

Advocacy journalism
Others, though, caution about the potential dangers of advocacy journalism. "Spanish-language media is the first point of contact for most Latinos new to the voting process," said Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and founder of Hispanic-communications-research firm Impacto Group in Washington. If journalists become commentators rather than objective purveyors of news, "the danger is that they're prejudicing to their own bias," she said.

Overall, Ms. Sanchez sees the increasing participation of Latinos in the election process as significant. "The Hispanic community is coming of age socially and politically," said Ms. Sanchez, author of the forthcoming book "Los Republicanos: Why Hispanics and Republicans Need Each Other." "They're becoming aware of their ability to engage in the political process."

Political Influencers

How Spanish-language outlets are affecting issues:
The TV network and newspaper publisher launched "Ya Es Hora"(It's About Time), a campaign promoting citizenship. Univision anchor Jorge Ramos will host a new current-events show, "Al Punto."
El Cucuy, a controversial leading shock jock known for mobilizing Latinos, is spearheading a "Votos por America" voter-registration drive.
The network is launching a "Vota por Nuestro Futuro" (Vote for Our Future) registration effort and a "Meet the Press"-like show called "Enfoque," hosted by Jose Diaz-Balart.
The network educates Hispanics about politics, voting and contacting elected officials through its "Tu Voto Cuenta" (Your Vote Counts) campaign. Anchor Jose Martín Samano is involved.

Courting Hispanic Voters

Presidential candidates reach out to Latino voters:
Bill Richardson announced his candidacy in Spanish in a video on YouTube.
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