NAHJ Board's Statement on NBC's Plans for Telemundo
Media Contacts: Daniela Montalvo, (202) 662-7152
Washington, D.C. - Late last week, NAHJ wrote to executives at NBC regarding the network's plans for Telemundo. Much has been reported about the restructuring and layoffs at NBC. The plans for Telemundo have received very little media attention. To us, the most disturbing action NBC will take is to eliminate local newscasts at six Telemundo stations and replace them with a "hubbed" newscast out of Fort Worth, Texas. The half-hour newscast will include reports from the cities where the news departments are being eliminated.
It's also estimated that 68 Telemundo employees are being cut in Puerto Rico, where Telemundo was founded. This could only have a negative effect on the network's ability to cover the Spanish-speaking population of the island.
The cities where the local newscasts are being axed ranked among the top 10 Hispanic markets: Houston (4), Dallas (6), San Antonio (7), San Jose (8) and Phoenix (9), according to 2006-07 Nielsen Media Research. They are significant markets.
NBC is not doing away with local newscasts at any of its English-language stations -- only with its Telemundo properties. This leads us to question the company's commitment to the Latino community. To the point: if regionalized newscasts are good for journalism and not just a way to save money while giving the appearance of meeting the network's public interest obligations, why are regional newscasts only being planned for the Spanish-speaking audience? Doesn't the English-language audience deserve this level of service?
When NBC bought Telemundo in 2001, they promised to improve the quality of Spanish-language news of the company they were acquiring.
These are NBC's summarized arguments for approval of the merger, as they appear on the fourth page of a 2001 filing to the FCC:
1. The merger will give Telemundo the resources to compete effectively with Univision, which is the dominant Spanish-language television broadcaster in the United States.
2. By raising the bar for competition, the merger will require both Univision and Telemundo to improve the quality of their programming and therefore their level of service to the Spanish-speaking Latino community.
3. The merger will result in an improvement in Telemundo's news and information programming, both at the network and local station level.
4. As members of the GE/NBC family, Telemundo's employees will have greater opportunities for career advancement and training.
5. The merger will also benefit NBC's English-only audience by creating new possibilities for the cross-fertilization of ideas and viewpoints between the Latino and English-speaking cultures.
There are now over 43 million Hispanics in the United States, with an estimated purchasing power of almost $800 billion dollars. Research shows 89% prefer to speak Spanish at home.* It is also evident, thanks to Nielsen ratings, that in many markets, they also prefer to watch news in Spanish.
Not providing local news is a disservice; it goes against the very promise made by NBC back in 2001 to "serve the public interest" with the merger.
It seems the National Latino Media Council might have foreseen what was to come. In December of 2001, the council petitioned the FCC to deny approval of the proposed NBC-Telemundo merger, insisting that it was not in the best interest of Latinos or the public. At the time, the group cited concerns about the detrimental effects media consolidation had had on diversity, program content and minority ownership.
The group also questioned NBC's track record and that of its parent company, General Electric, when dealing with the Latino community.
"We have seen the consequences of media consolidations," noted Juan Figueroa, PRLDEF President, the counsel in the filing. "Just nine companies own most of the media outlets in the United States. By its very nature, media consolidation means that companies are seeking the greatest market share at the lowest cost. This has had devastating effects on Latinos.
"Rampant cost-cutting has resulted in layoffs, hiring freezes, and cuts in critically important, but less lucrative, program areas such as news and public affairs. Thus, it means fewer existing opportunities in the industry and reduced services to Latino audiences and customers."
NAHJ also questions the extent to which NBC's purchase of Telemundo has benefited the network's English-language audience. Our annual Network Brownout report, released last Thursday, found that less than 1 percent of news stories in 2005 were about Latinos. That is 105 stories out of an estimated 12,600 that were broadcast on the network news last year. Of the 105 stories, NBC had 37 stories while ABC and CBS each aired 34 stories.
For more than a year, NAHJ has opposed increased media consolidation because of concerns that it harms minority ownership and the quality of local news. It appears to us that NBC and Telemundo have turned those concerns into a promise of lower quality local news for its Spanish-speaking audiences. We are compelled to speak up.
This is not just about the loss of jobs. It's about access to information.
The Latino community deserves better.
* Data from Census and Synovate's Hispanic Market Report