Univision News may have been rebuffed when it requested to host a presidential debate on issues important to Hispanics—education, healthcare and immigration.
But the country’s No. 1 Spanish-language media network announced Thursday that it would host the “first-ever Hispanic-themed” presidential televised version of a “Meet the Candidates” type forums with both President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney—only the media company is calling the project “Meet the Candidate”—no plural.
Except when they talk about the Q&A sessions as “events.”
That’s because the two men vying for America’s top post will be questioned separately, in front of a live audience, on issues of importance to the Hispanic community in both English and Spanish. The conversation will focus on education and the future of Latinos in the U.S.
While no dates have been announced, Univision said both candidates have confirmed their participation in the question sessions, which will be moderated by Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, anchors of Univision’s evening newscast.
“These events speak to President Obama and Governor Romney recognizing the important role Hispanic America will play in the elections and in defining the future of our country,” said Univision News President Isaac Lee in a statement. “These conversations are critically important to the community we serve.”
In advance of Univision “Meet The Candidate” program, the media company—which is also covering the Republican National Convention next week—has partnered with Facebook to solicit questions and topic suggestions from the public. “We are excited to utilize the world’s largest social network to get people involved with issues that matter most to them,” Lee said in his statement. This conversation will take place on the Univision Noticias Facebook Page as well as Facebook’s election hub, the U.S. Politics page.
Univision has interviewed presidential candidates in its 50-year history, but these “Meet the Candidate” programs will be the first time both parties’ presidential nominees have sat down for this type of longer, interactive discussion.
That could be an indication of the important role Hispanics—the fastest-growing minority in the United States, expected to make up roughly a third of the country’s population by 2050—play in the November elections. The Latino vote is projected at 10 to 12 million and could be key in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
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Still, Latino leaders and journalists were not happy earlier this month when the moderators for the three televised presidential debates and the vice presidential debate scheduled so far were announced—and not one of them was Hispanic. The Commission on Presidential Debates selected PBS’ Jim Lehrer for the first on Oct. 3 in Denver, CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley for the second on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, NY, and CBS’ Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer, who is also moderator on Face the Nation, on Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, FL. for the presidential face-offs. They chose ABC’s Martha Raddatz to moderate the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Kentucky.
Both the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and celebrated TV personality Geraldo Rivera, as well as other Latino organizations and journalists have blasted the lack of diversity. NAHJ President Hugo Balta wrote to CPD Executive Director Janet Brown to request a Hispanic journalist be added and was denied. Brown indicated in her response that diversity was not necessary.
“The four journalists chosen to moderate the 2012 debate see their assignment as representing all Americans in choosing topics and questions,” Brown wrote, adding that the 18-month selection process vetted about 60 journalists. “The general election debates have always featured issues of national importance that affect all citizens.”
They chose moderators who “have skills particularly suited to the 2012 format” and that the choice of one moderator “makes it difficult to accommodate all the groups that have expressed an interest in having one of their representatives chosen,” Brown added.
NAHJ leaders said the response did not satisfy their concerns.
“Insulting. I’m sorry, but the “choice of a single moderator makes it difficult to accommodate all groups” excuse is just that, an excuse,” said Rafael Olmeda, a writer at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Their choice of moderators has never failed to include an aging white male. Why has that demographic never been unrepresented?
“The time for this commission to confront its stubborn distaste for diversity is simply overdue,” Olmeda said, hinting that the organization should take a harder line stance. “Polite is not working.”
Joanna Hernandez, president of UNITY Journalists, agreed. “The moderators for our presidential debates should reflect the diversity of our nation. The time for this to occur has come and gone.”