Viewers of ABC, CBS or NBC morning shows and evening news programs could be forgiven for thinking nothing newsworthy is going on in Venezuela, where an emboldened opposition in recent weeks has been working to remove incumbent socialist President Nicolás Maduro through a recall referendum. The country is currently going through a devastating humanitarian crisis, in which food is scarce, medicine and other supplies are dwindling rapidly, and the populace is sliding into chaos. Yet, the traditional big three broadcast networks have yet to air a single word about this ongoing crisis.
Unlike their English-language counterparts at ABC, CBS and NBC, however, between May 1-23 America’s top Spanish-language television networks, Univision and Telemundo, have dedicated 33 reports and nearly an hour of coverage to the convulsive developments in one of the world’s leading oil-producing countries. And unlike both Spanish-language television networks’ coverage of domestic U.S political developments, which tends to favor the liberal Obama administration, the dominant narrative in Univision and Telemundo’s coverage of Venezuela has been decidedly hostile to the Socialist government in power.
While ABC, CBS and NBC have ignored the economic disaster in Venezuela, all three networks have only mentioned Venezuela in their coverage in the context of the Zika virus outbreak. Meanwhile, during the May 1-23 period under study, the top Spanish-language television network in the U.S., Univision, dedicated over 30 minutes of coverage to the ongoing political and social crisis in Venezuela. Almost 15 minutes of that time took place during Univision’s Sunday public affairs show, Al Punto, including an interview with Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Specifically, Univision and Telemundo have shown their viewers the severe shortages of basic necessities like food, medicine and personal hygiene products, riots and looting around the country, as well as growing clashes between state security forces and demonstrators seeking to remove Maduro from power. This sample from Telemundo below is indicative of the coverage.
DANIEL GARRIDO, REPORTER, TELEMUNDO: Amid a severe crisis of shortages and a wave of looting and protests throughout the country, the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable is demanding the recall referendum against [President] Nicolás Maduro to avoid further tensions. The government refuses to do so.
Among the Sunday show guests or talking heads in new stories appearing as part of Univision’s coverage during the period under study, only 11 of a total of 28 (39%) were politicians or protesters representing the Socialist government, while 17 (61%) were opposition protesters, leaders or supporters.
At Telemundo, meanwhile, some 19 (37%) of a total of 51 voices discussing the situation in Venezuela were politicians or protesters that favor the government, while 32 (63%) were opposition protesters, leaders, or supporters.
The prevailing tilt of Univision and Telemundo’s stories on Venezuela was determined by tallying all statements from journalists and quoted sources that articulated either a recognizably pro-government or anti-government point of view. If the total of these comments were tilted in either direction by a greater than three-to-two margin, then the story was scored as having either a “pro-government” or “anti-government” spin. Otherwise, the story was classified as “neutral” or “balanced”.
Based on the above criteria, none of either network’s 33 reports on Venezuela during May 1-23 were tilted in favor of the government. 10 (30%) were neutral or balanced and 23 (70%) favored the opposition. The reports covered such varied aspects of the situation as the proposed recall referendum against President Maduro, the deteriorating economy, the collapsing health care system, public safety and civil liberties.
To the extent the situation in Venezuela continues to worsen, viewers can expect Univision and Telemundo to continue to dedicate attention to this important subject. In order to provide coverage of the crisis in Venezuela to all Americans, however, ABC, CBS and NBC should also take note and devote the attention these developments deserve.
The situation in Venezuela has worsened so quickly that on May 17 the New York Times took note, with an editorial titled Venezuela’s Downward Spiral that directly pins the blame on the crisis on “the hollow promise of the socialist policies Mr. Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have peddled since the late 1990s.” The American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry also chronicled the “Venezuelan apocalypse” that same day.
Editor’s Note: MRC analysts Rich Noyes, Mike Ciandella, Kyle Drennen, Nicholas Fondacaro and Remzo Martínez contributed to this report.