Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak, Spanish-Language Television Becomes More Important Than Ever

Apr 10, 2020
4:14 PM

PHILADELPHIA — For millions of Spanish-speaking Latinos, finding news on the impact of the coronavirus on their communities goes beyond fishing through tweets and messages in hopes of finding trustworthy information. It’s true that many scroll endlessly through WhatsApp messages that range from conspiracy theories to dangerous suggestions for dealing with the coronavirus. However, for many Latinos who only speak Spanish and have limited access to the internet, television has become their only reliable source of information.

When the Trump administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced their initial plan to contain the spread of the virus within 15 days, the document was only made available in English. This document has crucial information with instructions for those who are sick, elderly, and have underlying health conditions, and guidelines for good hygiene and social distancing. Due to initial reporting by Latino Rebels’ Julio Ricardo Varela, which led to pressure from activist groups, the document was made available in Spanish two days later.


In the midst of a global health pandemic, the two biggest Spanish-language television networks in the United States have stepped up to inform millions of Spanish-speakers who are left with limited resources and information in their native language and of their cultural interest. Mainstream English-language media has devoted very limited time to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who are left in precarious circumstances in the midst of the pandemic. Few newsrooms have acknowledged that undocumented immigrants, an integral part of the U.S. economy, have been shunned from the $2 trillion economic relief plan that President Trump recently signed. That’s not the case for Univision and Telemundo. They’ve reported on immigrants who were left jobless after dozens of New York City restaurants closed, the vulnerable state of migrants detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Jersey, and the insecurities migrant workers face in California.

Morning shows, “Despierta America” on Univision and “Un Nuevo Dia” on Telemundo, have pivoted from their usual hybrid of entertainment and information to four hours of back-to-back coverage of the pandemic’s impact on Latinos in the United States. The morning shows have also expanded their coverage beyond Monday through Friday. Both networks are airing a new Sunday morning edition of these shows to keep viewers informed all week long. Univision created a daily one-hour program, “Noticias Univision Presenta: Diarios del Coronavirus,” airing mid-afternoon to update viewers on the latest developments of the coronavirus.

While Telemundo added new anchors to their line-up and extended their “Al Rojo Vivo” newscast an additional hour to keep the information flowing. Both networks rely on several Spanish-speaking doctors to answer questions posed by well-known anchors who Latinos in the United States have grown to trust.

While the internet has become a new source of information, television is still the primary source of news for Latinos. According to a 2018 survey, 79 percent of Latinos typically get their news on television. However, Latinos are increasingly using the internet to access the news. That same 2018 survey found that 74 percent of Latinos also get their news from the internet. Like other television news outlets, Spanish-language networks are taking notice.

Univision and Telemundo are leading multi-platform efforts to keep their viewers informed and engaged. Viewers can post questions on social media that get answered on air. The networks also post a series of clips and host live sessions on their social media platforms addressing everything from how to stay healthy during the pandemic to managing your children’s at-home school work.

Unlike other news networks, they don’t break into their newscasts to air the president’s daily press conferences that have proven to be full of dangerous misinformation, mindless rants, and combative interactions between the president and the press pool.  They, however, report on any important developments from the press conferences and air them in their highly-watched evening newscasts.

Providing services and information in Spanish is more important than ever. A new survey finds that Latinos are more concerned about the coronavirus having a significant impact on their health and finances than other racioethnic groups. This concern is evident in New York, the current epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. According to a Wednesday briefing from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Latinos make up 34% of the city’s deaths from COVID-19. Latinos also have a higher rate of fatal lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases than other racioethnic groups in New York City. To make matters worse, hospitals are facing difficulties providing medical services to patients who do not speak English.

This pandemic doesn’t see borders. When the government fails to provide adequate services and information in languages other than English, everyone suffers. Fortunately, Spanish-language television networks have stepped up to keep Spanish-speaking Latinos informed.


Rafael Logroño is a bilingual journalist and college instructor from Philadelphia. He teaches a variety of courses, including Latin American Media, and writes about Latinx communities and issues. He tweets from @Rafael_Logro.