How Univision and Telemundo Are Covering the Protests

Jun 3, 2020
3:19 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Univision and Telemundo, the top providers of Spanish-language content in the United States, have been facing criticism from some on social media due to their news coverage of the recent protests against police brutality.

Over the past week, these two outlets, like their English-language counterparts, have had to pivot from largely covering the coronavirus pandemic (which continues to disproportionately affect the country’s Black and Latino communities), to covering breaking news of protests in the wake of a series of deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police.

While some of their coverage has been thorough —Univision is maintaining a live blog with updates about the protests, and Telemundo has multiple stories on their site as of Wednesday afternoon related to excessive use of force by police during the protests, including a one-hour special “I Can’t Breathe” special— some of their coverage is still prompting criticism of racism and anti-Blackness.

This week, Univision published a segment about police uniting with protestors in a show of solidarity with protestors. The story included an interview with the chief of police of South Miami where he was barely questioned about his views on police use of force. Instead, the story’s headline read (translated by Latino Rebels), “‘We were all together in that moment’: a police officer speaks about why they kneeled to show respect for the demonstrators.” Telemundo published a similar segment.

Both Telemundo and Univision aired interviews with multiple Latino business owners whose stores had been vandalized or looted. A subheading on one Univision story read (translated by Latino Rebels), “From liquor stores to family restaurants, athletic shoe stores and supermarket chains in various US cities have been robbed and even lit on fire, tarnishing the protests demanding justice for George Floyd.” A segment on Telemundo from Tuesday proclaimed, “Violent Looting in New York City,” and noted that looting left one sporting goods store “without a single pair of shoes” left.

Some viewers are left frustrated by what they see as the networks’ overemphasis on the looting of the past week.

“It’s just kind of like nothing has changed even prior to the protest,” 29-year-old Miriam Orrego of Chicago told Latino Rebels. “They’re continuing the narrative of over-representing Blacks as criminals and instilling fears in the viewers.”

Every night around 5 p.m., Orrego said she sits down to eat dinner and watch the news with her family. They flip between Univision and Telemundo, usually settling on Telemundo, and Orrego said she’s concerned by the messages these outlets send her parents.

“Some of [my parents’] reactions are the fear factor, the shock effect. Like, ‘Oh they set something on fire! That’s ridiculous, they’re not going to get nowhere with destroying property.’ But that’s all they’re seeing,” Orrego said.

She and other younger Latinos on social media say the protest coverage on these networks is doing a bad job of informing their families about the roots of the protests, and discouraging solidarity with Black Americans, which include Afro-Latinos.

Orrego said she would like to see a wider range of people interviewed about the protests on Univision and Telemundo.

“They’re only interviewing people that are saying bad things [about the protests], when I know there are people out there that believe in the movement,” Orrego said. “They should be able to sympathize and show that empathy. Because all they are doing is just instilling fear.”

Protest coverage on Spanish-language TV has also included thoughtful pieces like Paola Ramos’ Telemundo story on how U.S. Latinos are complicit in racism.

“I didn’t just think it was a missed opportunity to not talk about it, but also hypocritical to not take this moment to acknowledge how we, as a community, are complicit in perpetuating racism,” Ramos told Latino Rebels via email about her reason for doing the piece. “The moment also became crystal clear when [CNN’s] Omar Jimenez was arrested in front of our eyes—and I wondered how many people in the Latinx community knew that Omar was Afro-Latino and part of their community. As a journalist, I think my responsibility right now is to open my people’s eyes,” said Ramos, referring to Jimenez’s arrest as he reported on the protests on live TV last week.

Ramos welcomes the criticism these outlets have received from young people.

“Gen Zers are the most diverse generation yet,” Ramos said. “Latinos are the youngest demographic in the country. Criticism is the only way these networks will understand that their TV screens need to start looking like the future, not the past.”

Many young Latinos shared some of those critiques on Twitter. A few of the critiques contained explitives directed against both networks.

Journalist and immigrant rights advocate Jose Antonio Vargas also weighed in.

Stand-up comic and author Cristela Alonzo raised similar concerns online as well.

In response to a request for comment from Latino Rebels about the coverage, Univision president Daniel Coronell said, “Univision News rejects any form of discrimination or racism. We condemn police brutality and violence against Black Americans or any other communities. We believe in peaceful protests as a legitimate right in a democracy. We have been covering protests as breaking news and have also produced live programming to cover them in depth and with context. Univision News proudly represents, reports on and gives a voice to a diverse community. We will continue to do so, and to listen to its members through rigorous journalism that allows us to bring understanding and attention to the situation. We are committed to providing our audience full, accurate and contextual reporting and commentary.”

Latino Rebels reached out to Telemundo for comment as well. The network said it would provide a statement in response, but as of this publication, had not yet done so. (If Latino Rebels receives a statement, this story will be updated to reflect that.)

Both outlets have a history of issues with race in the past. An on-air Univision host was fired in 2015 for making racist comments about First Lady Michelle Obama. That host, Rodner Figueroa, now works at Telemundo.

In 2014, Univision was called out for interviewing George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin. The network has also been criticized for making racist jokes and referring to a black soccer player by his skin color.

In 2018, Telemundo suspended two on-air personalities for openly mocking Asians.

UPDATE, June 3, 7:45pmET: Latino Rebels received a statement from Telemundo, attributed to Luis Fernandez, president of Telemundo Network News.

“At Telemundo News we are deeply committed to providing our audience with objective news and information. Accuracy and rigor are core principles of our news coverage. Telemundo News highlights diverse voices on this and every issue. We will continue to provide comprehensive coverage of this very important story to help foster a better and broader understanding of racial injustices in our country.”


Ana Lucía Murillo is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. and the 2020 summer correspondent for Latino Rebels. She tweets from @analuciamur