Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The howls of protest against Univision began as soon as its interview with Donald J. Trump aired. A month later, they still haven’t stopped.

To critics of Univision, the Nov. 9 interview — with its gentle questioning and limited follow-ups from the interviewer, Enrique Acevedo — has confirmed their fears since the traditionally left-leaning network merged with the Mexican broadcaster Televisa early last year in a $4.8 billion deal. The network, they said, was taking a troubling turn to the right under its new owners, who have a reputation for cultivating relationships with leading politicians in Mexico, where Televisa has been a feared kingmaker for more than 50 years.

Last-minute maneuvering at Univision raised further suspicions. Just hours before the interview aired, the network reversed its invitation to the Biden campaign to run ads during the hourlong special with Mr. Trump, citing what appeared to be a new company policy. Scarcely an hour later, Univision abruptly canceled an interview with the Biden campaign’s director of Hispanic media.

But the reason for changes at the network can’t be explained by political considerations alone, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former Univision journalists and executives, including Mr. Acevedo and Daniel Coronell, the network’s president of news.

Hispanic media is proving susceptible to the same upheaval straining other American newsrooms. Spanish-language television news audiences are in decline, compounding pressure from an uneven economy. And the dilemma over how to report on Mr. Trump — should he get exhaustive, minimal or even no coverage? — is vexing Univision just as it is its English-language counterparts.

Univision executives have said they are making a pivot toward the center — a strategy that reflects the split political preferences of the Hispanic electorate and the need to broaden their audience.

“I think they saw the reputation Univision had as a Democratic megaphone,” Mr. Acevedo said about the network’s new owners, in his first interview about the criticism. Univision’s new approach is an effort to be more balanced and offer diversity of not just race, gender and sexual orientation but point of view, he said.

“I think they understood that in 22 years, we hadn’t had a Republican sitting or former president sit down with us,” Mr. Acevedo added. “If anything they’re being criticized for that.” No one told him what to ask or to go easy on Mr. Trump, he said.

While Univision’s shift may upset some Democrats, it reflects the political and business reality: To grow, Univision leadership believes, the company needs to change its programming to better serve the Hispanic voting population, which recent elections and polling suggest is inching to the right.

“If you’ve been the beneficiary of media bias for the last 30 years, then balance starts to feel like betrayal,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who is highly critical of Mr. Trump but also believes that Democrats have taken the Hispanic vote for granted.

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