The nation's increasingly powerful Spanish-language television networks show a distinct liberal bias in covering domestic news, a conservative media watchdog group asserted Tuesday.
The Media Research Center says that its four-month analysis of weekday evening newscasts aired on Univision and Telemundo showed that the networks' domestic coverage was "dominated by partisans" from the left.
Authors Ken Oliver-Mendez and Rich Noyes, who were particularly critical of the networks' efforts to encourage viewers to obtain insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, characterized the findings as a wake-up call for conservatives eager to reach the nation's fastest-growing demographic.
"It is incumbent upon more conservatives to effectively engage and make themselves available to these networks with relevant and compelling content," they wrote.
The report, "Hispanic Media in the Balance," co-sponsored by the American Principles Project's Latino Partnership, was released at a launch Tuesday of the center's new "MRC Latino" effort to monitor Spanish-language news.
The importance of coverage and perception of the Republican Party among Latinos was underscored by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, considered one of the top prospects for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Republicans, he said in comments at the MRC event held at the Newseum, cannot be seen as "just the party of deportation."
"The bottom line is that the Hispanic community, the Latino community is not going to hear us until we get beyond that issue," said Paul, who opposes the Senate's comprehensive immigration overhaul. "They're not going to care whether we go to the same church or have the same values or believe in the same kind of future of our country until we get beyond that."
The MRC survey, which analyzed nearly 30 hours of coverage and 667 stories on U.S. politics and policy between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28, found that 45 percent of the stories "tilted left/liberal," 49 percent were viewed as balanced, and 6 percent "slanted right/conservative."
The networks, the authors asserted, served at times as "pawns of public relations or publicity campaigns," particularly in their formal arrangements with the Obama administration to promote the Affordable Care Act.
"That was a real red flag for us," Oliver-Mendez said. "During the four months of the study, we would see the anchors promoting enrollment directly, and referring viewers to the health care website."
"None of this type of stuff was on any of the big three networks — ABC, NBC or CBS," he said. "It was an infestation of marketing, done on both Univision and Telemundo."
Among the other findings: Democratic politicians and advocates were the dominant voices on the networks' news reports, which were dominated by coverage of immigration issues and Obamacare; the networks' international coverage was judged less partisan.
"Our first examination shows America's top Spanish language news networks are failing to fully live up to their journalistic vocation when they let their domestic news content be dominated by partisans on one side of the ideological spectrum," Oliver-Mendez and Noyes wrote.
Oliver-Mendez says that MRC has reached out to both networks, and that there are meetings being planned with executives of both.
"I'm very pleased with their response to constructive criticism, and to figuring out how we can all improve," he said.
In response to a request for comment, Telemundo sent this statement:
"Noticias Telemundo stands for accuracy, fairness and independence, while we strive to meet the highest ethical standards in the industry. We are devoted to our audience of U.S. Hispanics and strive to offer them the most reliable and objective information on the subjects that matter the most to them. The journalistic principles that rule our work ensure that our news coverage is transparent, impartial and factual."
"At Univision News we are committed to providing access to all points of view and information so that our audiences can make informed decisions, regardless of their political views or affiliations. We have an open invitation to elected officials and representatives from all sides to address our community on issues of importance and relevance."
In a post at the conservative Heritage Foundation's Foundry blog, Israel Ortega noted that the Hispanic media are "hugely influential in shaping public opinion," noting that nearly all of U.S. Hispanic households are reached by Univision alone.
Ortega noted that conservatives have two options, in light of the findings of the MRC study: "The first is to complain and do nothing," he wrote. "But the second — and far more compelling — response is to heed the recommendation of the Media Research Center's study and engage with Hispanic media to better inform news reports and stories before they are disseminated."