San Diego Union-Tribune
Thursday, April 9, 1998
CAMPAIGN '98/CALIFORNIA PRIMARY
Spanish-Language Media Emerging Star in Politics
By ED MENDEL, Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO -- It was another interview in a Capitol hallway for Sen.
Dede Alpert, a veteran Democrat from Coronado whose bill on bilingual education
had just cleared a committee last week.
But this time the questions came from a new
presence at the Capitol -- the Sacramento correspondent for a Spanish-language
television network. Though Alpert would wince afterward about a grammatical
mistake or two, she replied in fluent Spanish during the interview by Xochitl
Arellano, who has been covering the Capitol for Univision since last summer.
Alpert's remarks were broadcast later by
Channel 19 (KBNT), a Spanish-language television station in San Diego.
Its 6 p.m. newscast, fluctuating in the ratings, has on occasion drawn
a larger audience among adults ages 18 to 49 than any of its three English-language
competitors in that time slot.
"We were expecting to take the lead
in 1999 or 2000, but the moment came last November when the newscast was
about 6 months old," said Hector Molina, the Channel 19 station manager.
The growing Spanish-language broadcast media
in California is becoming an important political battleground, mainly because
the rapidly growing Latino population is beginning to vote in greater numbers.
This is the first time Spanish-language television ads have been used extensively
in California in races for governor and a U.S. Senate seat.
Three wealthy candidates, who are all funding
their own races, want to win the votes of Latinos.
Al Checchi, a Democrat running for governor,
has put 15 percent of the $14 million he has spent on television ads so
far into Spanish-language ads, some featuring a message spoken by his wife,
Kathy. He has aired both positive biographical spots and attacks on Jane
Harman, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
"They (Latinos) are going to make up
a large percentage of the final vote, maybe 12 to 14 percent, and that
can make the difference in an election," said Michael Powell, Checchi's
Harman began running Spanish-language television ads this year after she
jumped into the race late and zoomed to the top of the polls.
Republican Darrell Issa, a Republican U.S.
Senate candidate, has run radio ads in Spanish and is working on Spanish-language
In an ironic twist, Spanish-language ads
on radio, and perhaps television, will be used for an initiative on the
June 2 ballot that would eliminate most bilingual education programs, sharply
reducing the use of Spanish in California classrooms.
"That is probably where the main focus
of our paid media effort will be," said Ron Unz, a wealthy Silicon
Valley entrepreneur who tried to wrest the Republican nomination for governor
from Pete Wilson in 1994.
Unz said he is concerned about negative coverage
of his initiative, Proposition 227, in the Spanish-language media. He said
the broadcasters may fear that passage of the initiative will create the
perception of limited future growth for the Spanish-language media market,
reducing the value of the stock of firms like Univision.
"There really does seem to be a growing
negative bias in the Spanish-language media -- I think having more to do
with dollars and cents," said Unz.
Unz pointed to an article in the March 23
issue of Forbes magazine that said Univision, whose revenue of $244 million
has doubled since 1993, is beginning to show signs of losing viewers to
English-language television in some nationwide surveys by Nielsen Media
A spokeswoman for Univision, Anne Corley,
said Unz is wrong on both points. She said Univision is committed to balanced
and objective reporting of all news stories, including Proposition 227,
and will continue to present both sides of the issue.
The magazine pointed to a slight drop in
Univision viewers among younger women and larger declines among young and
older men. Corley said viewership at the dozen stations owned by Univision,
not counting affiliates, has continued to grow, particularly in California.
"Nielsen's research shows Hispanics
have actually moved from English-language television to Spanish-language
television, not the other way around," said Corley.
Unlike the statewide candidates, Unz is not
looking to Latinos for the winning margin at this point. A statewide Field
Poll last month showed that the initiative is supported by 70 percent of
likely voters, including 61 percent of Latino voters. But he wants to ensure
strong support from Latinos because most of the 1.4 million children in
California schools who speak limited English are Latinos. "We want
to win a very strong mandate among California's Hispanics," said Unz.
The initiative would eliminate most bilingual
programs that teach children in their native language for up to seven years,
replacing them with a crash course in English normally lasting about a
"If the other side had a $10 million
campaign against us, they would really have a shot at beating us,"
But he expects the opposition campaign, Citizens
for an Educated America, to spend about $2 million. The resources of the
California Teachers Association are tied up in an all-out battle against
another initiative, Proposition 226, that would require unions to get permission
from members before spending union dues on political campaigns.
Richie Ross, a consultant for the opponents
of Proposition 227, said the campaign will have enough money to "get
the message out there." He said he was not surprised by Unz's plan
to use Spanish-language ads.
"I think he is overconfident of winning,
and at this point wants to make sure he is not labeled as having motivations
that speak to racial issues," said Ross.
Despite their increasing importance in political
campaigns, Spanish-language television stations still have only a small
share of television viewers.
Channel 19, the only Spanish-language station
located in San Diego, got about 4 percent of the viewers in the San Diego
market in a Nielsen survey during a week in November. But the station said
that was up from 2 percent earlier in the year.
San Diego County, where about 23 percent
of the residents are Latino, also is targeted by one or more Spanish-language
television stations in Tijuana.
Channel 33 (KHAS) is an outlet for Univision's
smaller rival for the U.S. Spanish-speaking audience, Telemundo.
In Los Angeles County, which is 42 percent
Latino, the Univision station, Channel 34 (KMEX), has the top-ranked newscasts
at 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. A KMEX spokesman said that all three Spanish-language
television stations in Los Angeles get about 13 percent of all viewers
throughout the day.
Spanish-language radio stations have a slightly
larger market share, with 18 percent to 20 percent of the listeners in
Los Angeles, 5 percent in San Diego and 3 percent in the San Francisco
Bay Area, according to the California Broadcasters Association.
In the view of Checchi's campaign director,
the Spanish-language broadcasts may have a relatively small market share,
but they are large in importance.
"The Hispanic community is becoming
a larger and larger percentage of the population in California, and even
more importantly, a larger and larger percentage of Hispanics are becoming
politically active and registered to vote," said Powell.