October 2, 1998


Latinos Talk Back to TV Through a National Survey

English Language TV Plays Prominent Role in Hispanic Households

Negatives Stereotypes Cause Channel Surfing and Drain Advertiser Support

Washington, DC — On the eve of the new TV season and during National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI) released the results of the first ever national survey of Hispanic viewing habits and portrayal on television.

The survey of 1,013 Hispanics and 404 non-Hispanic whites from five states with the largest Hispanic populations —California, New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois— revealed that while Latinos are generally content with what they watch on television, they feel they are regularly portrayed negatively, if at all, on their favorite entertainment and news programs.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, three out of four Hispanics said they watch at least as much English-language TV as Spanish-language TV. Almost half of Hispanic viewers have a language translation device on at least one TV set in their house.

Seven out of 10 Hispanic parents reported that children in their households watch mostly English-language TV while less than one in 20 parents say that their children watch more Spanish-language TV. Forty percent of Hispanic parents report that their children watch TV only with an adult family member, compared with only 27 percent of non-Hispanic white parents who say their children watch TV with adults.

Although Latinos are more likely to watch news in Spanish, almost seven out of 10 Latinos say that when they watch English-language news, stories on Hispanic men are most frequently about crime or immigration. Respondents said that Hispanic women were most often portrayed as victims of crime. Two in three Hispanics said they thought the quality of news coverage on the Latino community improves when a news program has a Latino news anchor.

On the other hand, non-Hispanic whites did not perceive news reporting on Hispanics to be as negative, although one in three said that Latinos were most frequently portrayed as criminals or illegals aliens. In fact, 56 percent of non-Hispanic whites said that the news show they watched portrayed Latinos positively, with only 12 percent reporting that Latinos are portrayed negatively.

"These findings should be a wake-up call to TV and its commercial advertisers. While one out of every nine Americans is Hispanic, they fell invisible on most programs, but when they show up, it's as criminal or illegal aliens. This is impacting a whole generation of Hispanic children," said Harry Pachon, Ph.D., president of TRPI.

Jimmy Smits, co-star of NYPD, said "The under-representation of Hispanics in the entertainment industry has made it very difficult for hard-working Hispanics to see themselves reflected in a positive way or feel as if they are part of the American fabric."

"When positive images of Hispanics are nearly vacant in the national consciousness, our presence becomes minimized and undervalued in the work force," added Smits, 1998 Emmy Award Nominee and co-founder of the national Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in Washington, D.C.

Hispanic parents said their children do not see positive role models on English-language T.V. At the same time over two-thirds of Hispanic parent said that Spanish-language television does not provide enough educational programs for their children.

"The Latino community is young with lots of children. These young people need good, strong role models to emulate. It's a shame that these children do not have a variety of positive role models to see on TV. Most often they see people who look like them as gang bangers or crooks. This is a disservice not only to our community, but to our country, said Belén Robles, former national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Latinos Surf Away From Stereotypes

While only one out of three Hispanic viewers said they could remember seeing a negative stereotype of a Hispanic on a program, almost half of those who reported seeing a negative stereotype said they switch channels when it happens. And Latinos said that English-language television broadcasts more negative stereotypes of Latinos than Spanish-language television does.

Congressmember Xavier Becerra, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said, "Twenty-five million Latinos watch television every day. That's a big market no one wants to lose. Commercial programming would likely be different if advertisers were aware that many Latinos change channels when they see negative stereotypes on a show."

Over 60 percent of Hispanics said they felt Latinos are more likely to be portrayed as begin violent on English-language TV than on Spanish-language TV. And Hispanics said they believed that English-language television tends to be more violent than Spanish-language television.

TV is Universal in Hispanic Community

Hispanics respondents reported nearly identical TV ownership as non-Hispanic whites with over 99 percent of their households having at least one TV, and an average of 2.3 televisions per household. Two out of three households have cable, and one out of six have satellite connections. And 84 percent of Hispanic households own a video cassette recorder (VCR).

The survey was conducted during August with a margin of error of +/-4.6 percent for the non-Hispanic white sample and +/-3.3 percent for the Latino sample.

The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute is a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization that focuses on issues of concern to the nation's Hispanic community. TRPI is affiliated with the Claremont Graduate University, and the Department of Government at the University of Texas.

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