Prominent advocates for the nation's Latino community highlighted how badly America's second-largest demographic is underrepresented in the media during a September 17 Media Matters-sponsored event to mark the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. The panelists underscored how the media's nearly complete lack of Latino representation ranges from the dearth of Latino voices and perspectives included in English-language news to the absence of substantive coverage of issues that matter most to Latinos -- and how that underrepresentation is mirrored by underrepresentation in the government, which deeply impacts “the quality of life of the Latino community.”
Panel moderator and CEO of Voto Latino, María Teresa Kumar explained that despite the fact that Latinos “are the second-largest demographic group of Americans ... our policies, our issues, and our opinions are completely missed from mainstream."
National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) Janet Murguía pointed out that when the media does cover Latino issues, the stories often present “a very shallow view of what the Latino voter looks like,” and frequently portray the community as concerned with the single issue of immigration, despite evidence that the economy, health care, and education are just as important to Latinos. Murguía noted that Latinos “are not monolithic, but we are multidimensional in terms of what we care about and how we engage in different roles in society.”
Hector Sánchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, illustrated how media coverage often fails Latinos by “responding to ratings” and overemphasizing sensational stories -- like Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants -- rather than providing a balanced platform for substantive coverage of issues that affect their lives:
The media is responding to ratings. When you have to respond to ratings, the sad reality is that you're not reporting what's important for the nation, what's important for the community. You're not researching in depth the issues that are happening on the ground. But it's more about tabloid news. This has a deep impact in the quality of life of the Latino community.
This is not a superficial issue. This has a deep impact in the quality of life of the Latino community, hate crimes against Latinos have increased 50 percent in the last five years, poverty increases because of this, there is a direct correlation with anti-immigrant pieces of legislation.
Felix Sánchez, co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, shed light on the importance of increasing Latino visibility in the media. As Media Matters has documented, improving diversity remains a challenge for decision-makers at media outlets: every broadcast Sunday morning political show is hosted by a white man, and guests of color are still underrepresented on not just the major broadcasters' Sunday shows, but also on morning political talk shows on MSNBC, and CNN.
As Voto Latino's Kumar noted, representation of Latino voices and perspectives in the media is “not just good for American Latinos, but it's actually good for the country to make sure that we are covering stories and our issues accurately.” NCLR's Murguía added that Latinos who actually work in media have “a real understanding of the Latino community” and are therefore uniquely positioned to make “sure that our community is more informed” and “can engage at a higher level.”
Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, also explained that the underrepresentation of Latinos in the media is matched by their underrepresentation in government, saying, “When we talk about our voice missing in media, think about our voice missing in government.”