Univision Self-Serving With Presidential Debate Lobbying

Univision CEO Randy Falco has taken up a noble cause. So why turn it into a self-serving publicity maneuver? Why not act like a confident leader?

In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), Falco laments that the moderators selected for the debates this fall won’t give Hispanics a “voice.” He writes that 20 million-plus Hispanics may vote, and it’s “important that they make an informed decision.”

He wants the CPD to add another debate to “speak directly” to the growing number of Hispanic voters -- or potential ones -- that will have an “influential” role in determining the White House occupant.

The moderators announced are former PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz (vice presidential debate), CNN’s Candy Crowley and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer.

It would have been impressive if Falco had built a coalition to augment his CPB lobbying by getting executives at Telemundo and other Hispanic broadcasters to join him. The fledgling MundoFox and Azteca America also have news operations.



Instead, his efforts appear to be all about raising the profile of Univision.

Falco notes that the CPD missed an opportunity to have a pair of bilingual moderators -- the “journalists most trusted by Hispanics” -- serve as debate moderators. Those two, Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, both work for Univision.

The additional debate Falco wants? He says Univision is eager to “create a forum” that speaks to Hispanics. Univision’s Ramos and Salinas would act as moderators to "carry the torch of the proud tradition" the CPD has engendered.

There is no suggestion that a Univision journalist be joined by an anchor from Telemundo or another network on a panel of questioners. There is no suggestion that the added debate be simulcast across all Hispanic-targeted networks, much like what happens with the English-language networks.

Falco does write that Univision is willing to work with the CPD on how best to reach Hispanics. That might have carried more heft with a line akin to: "The Hispanic broadcasting community feels so strongly about this that it is in lockstep on the necessity to do something powerful."

Falco recently spoke about the growth in Hispanic-targeted networks, noting: "We were the early movers and have spent many years as the undisputed leader. We hold that title now and expect to long into the future.”

With such confidence, why not work with competitors on a broad initiative this fall that continues Univision’s admirable commitment to public service -- in politics and elsewhere? If the CPD won't tee up another debate-type event, why not work to have Univision, Telemundo and others jointly clear two hours in prime time and invite the candidates to show up.

If they don’t, fill the space with jointly produced programming delving into issues and dealing with policy, not politics. Even without Obama and Romney in person, that will serve viewers, as Falco says he wants to in his letter.

From a business standpoint, with Univision as the runaway ratings leader, the network will get the bulk of the ad dollars during the extended special. Should it be commercial-free?

Falco’s quixotic initiative is a smart move, beyond any PR bump Univision is receiving today by releasing its CPD letter. He is laying the groundwork for 2016, when an English-language news-oriented network jointly run by Univision and ABC News will be up. If it is a successful venture, that could make it hard for the CPD not to pick a moderator from it.




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