Experts criticize U.S. media for overlooking Latin America
by AMANDA HOFFMAN
The United States media has failed to capture the nuance in Latin America’s complex cultural and political climate, according to experts on Latin American media.
U.S. news outlets mainly focus on Latin American topics that pertain to domestic policy, such as immigration and border issues, panelists said Tuesday during the “American Forum: Reporting on Latin America: Hit or Miss?” organized by American University.
The U.S. media may not report in-depth cultural and political context for Latin American stories, said Rick Rockwell, an associate professor at AU and co-author of “Media Power In Central America.”
“The image that comes to mind is a bull in a China shop,” he said. Rockwell said the U.S. bursts into the region and the media often “miss the nuance” of the political situations.
U.S. media place Latin American events in an American “echo chamber,” said Jose Carreno, a Washington correspondent for the Mexican daily newspaper El Universal. If the U.S. media ignores Latin American democratic movements, it could stunt them.
American society tends to react to domestic politics and impressions, Carreno said. For example, the U.S. media often look at Mexico in the context of immigration, he said.
But Paolo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a veteran journalist, said that the coverage on Brazil has been “decent.”
“I don’t buy that the image of Brazil in the U.S. is something artificially produced by the American media,” Sotero said.
However, Sotero said the U.S. media provide no new insights beyond what has already been reported inside the country.
A perceived media bias may be the result of demands from advertisers, ratings and subscribers, the speakers said.
“I don’t pay much attention to bias,” said Sotero. “If the reporter is a good reporter, they will get the facts and they will get the facts in a way that will allow me to form my opinion on the matter.”
Panelists agreed that overall, coverage of the region is lacking.
Coverage of Latin America is “sporadic, spotty coverage,” Carreno said.
Carreno also said the U.S. media do not give enough background reporting on the news coming out of Latin America. The social reasons for the shift to leftist governments in Brazil and other countries have been largely ignored or not explained, he said.
Although many on the panel gave credit to The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News for their international news reporting, Rockwell said many news organizations have cut back on their international bureaus. “The trend we see in U.S. media is less and less international coverage when we need more and more,” he said.
The biggest problem for Latin American journalists has been self-censorship, Rockwell said, which he said was caused by the region’s history of repressive governments.
In several countries, such as Mexico, Brazil, and Columbia, Latin American journalists are struggling to simply survive on the job, the panelists said.
“Mexico is still one of the top countries where journalists are threatened or killed for their work,” said Rockwell, “and in other countries there is fear for losing dollars to keep your paper alive or keep your radio program going.”
Carreno said 102 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the last two years, mainly because they have written about organized crime or drug-trafficking.
“The problem is not what the government has done, but what it hasn’t done,” said Carreno, “The government has allowed the violence to have its way.”
Major news organizations are reducing their foreign coverage and catering to ratings and polls, Rockwell said. News consumers should also look to alternative media and blogs for international news, he said.
“The fewer voices you have reporting, the less quality reporting you’re going to have,” said Rockwell.
In the face of these influences on the U.S. media’s coverage of Latin America, Sotero took a moment to remind journalists of their primary responsibility.
“The only mandate we have is the mandate of democracy,” Sotero said.