Political Ploy or Censorship?

Univision, the largest Spanish-language network in the United States, has decided not to run TV ads from a political group that urged Latinos to sit out next month’s Congressional elections.

The network had been pressured by Latino groups, who threatened to boycott Univision if it aired ads by “Latinos for Reform,” a small, partisan-linked organization. The ads, which were supposed to begin airing today in Nevada, called on Latinos to boycott Congressional races in November because of Congress’ failure to pass an immigration reform bill.

Univision, which has editorial discretion to not run issue ads, released a statement saying it would not run any spots from Latinos for Reform related to voting.

“Univision prides itself on promoting civic engagement and our extensive national campaigns encourage Hispanics to vote,” an Univision spokesperson said.

The ads had come under fire by some Hispanic groups who called it a Republican ploy to depress the Latino vote. In past elections, Hispanic voters in Nevada have tended to vote more heavily for Democrats than Republicans.

“They are trying to take away our privileged right to vote through scare tactics and fear mongering,” said Francisco Romero, president of Hispanics in Politics, a Las Vegas-based group. “We are just beside ourselves.”

Latinos for Reform President Robert Deposada, a longtime Republican consultant, said the group is reassessing its efforts to figure out what to do next.

“It’s extremely sad to see Univision be part of this,” Deposada said. “We have to now figure out what options we have.”

The group was created two years ago to question President Obama’s commitment to the Latino community. It had been in hiatus since then but was reactivated recently for the voting ad campaign, Deposada said.

The ads stoked anger among Hispanic groups because it asked Hispanics to make a difference – by not voting.

“Now is the time for Latinos to decide what role they will play in America’s future and what we want politically,” says a statement by the group. “If…we don’t vote for these politicians, then we will command the attention and respect of both sides of the aisle.”

The commercials were supposed to start airing today on Univision in English and Spanish in Nevada.

Univision turned away about $150,000 the groups was going to pay the network to air the ads nationwide, Deposada said. He said he was considering returning the money to the donors, which he described as Hispanic businessman from both sides of the political aisle.

Deposada, who was a political analyst for Univision since 2000, he said he is refusing to return to the network because of today’s decision.

“All we wanted was to not let people take us for granted. Over and over, we elect these people and they don’t do anything for us,” Deposada said. “What Univision is doing is censorship.”

Howard M. Wasserman, an associate professor of Law at Florida International University, said Univision has an editorial right to refuse to air the ad, but it is troubling when they refuse to broadcast an ad simply when they don’t agree with it.

“A TV news outlet like Univision is the most powerful way to reach a wide audience,” Wasserman said. “And it’s troubling when a powerful entity prevents a group’s voice from being heard.”

Others approvingly trumpeted Univision’s move – saying it was the right thing for the network to do.

“Very happy they did that. There was a scuttlebutt that people were going to boycott them if they aired the ad – and they couldn’t afford that,” Romero said. “That was the only outlet they were going to use, and I’m elated Univision took that position.”

Romero said airing the ads would have had negative repercussions for the Latino community.
“If it turned away one vote,” he said. “It was one vote too many.”

Hispanic Democratic congressional members were also reaching out to the public to make sure the ads message was not heeded.

“Too many people fought too hard to make sure all citizens of all colors, races, ethnicities, genders, and abilities can vote to think that not voting somehow sends a message,” Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois wrote in his blog for the Huffington Post.” Plus, in the Latino community, those of us who are eligible to vote must vote on behalf of those who aren't.”