Spanish Media Critical of State's Emergency And Advertising Practices


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By Doug Maine
In the event of emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012, most of Connecticut’s Spanish-language media are left to their own devices to seek out official information from the state government. If they are notified, the communication they receive is in English, a problem because most don’t have the staff to translate that information into Spanish and say they should not be expected to perform this service at no cost.
Several representatives of Spanish-language media outlets related their experiences on getting information from the state in times of crisis, as well as what they say is the lack of paid advertising on public safety issues during a fact-finding hearing held Wednesday by the state’s Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
When Sandy was approaching, Bridgeport’s Radio Cumbre (WCUM) took a proactive approach, interviewing the mayor and other city officials to find out what their local plans were for dealing with the storm and what residents should do to prepare themselves, reported Pablo Colón III, the station’s vice president of sales and marketing. “I think there’s a level of decentralization of all the departments within the state,” he said, with each having its own ways of getting information out, “and maybe not all of them know we exist.”
Both Colón and Carlos Masías, director of the PostLatino monthly newspaper and website, said that Spanish-speaking spokespersons from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are available to speak directly to the Spanish-speaking community. But nothing comparable was available from the state. Ruth S. Espinoza, director of Identidad Latina, a bi-weekly newspaper based in Hartford, said, “The main problem we have is that all those releases are in English. All we ask from the governor or city mayors is ‘send us the information in Spanish.’”
Both Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra have Spanish-speaking communications staff, but their press releases are released only in English. “We still do translate some stuff if it’s important,” and between print issues, they can post up-to-date information as often as is necessary on their website, Espinoza said.María J. Lino, principal in The Latino Way Marketing and Media in Hartford, who has also worked in Spanish-language media, said, “I see the big need for at least the departments of communications of each big (state) agency to have a staff member who can write Spanish-language press releases. They need to do more than “sending a press release and saying ‘good luck,’” she said. If radio and TV stations receive information in Spanish, “they can put it right on the air.”
Translating takes time and needs to be done well or the result can be a press release that doesn’t make sense. “Sometimes we just laugh at what we read,” Lino said. “We need Hispanic professionals, not just persons who speak Spanish. We have Puerto Rican people; we have South American people. We need to establish a good level of language to communicate with all Spanish speakers.”
Hector Bauzá, president and CEO of Bauzá & Associates Hispanic Marketing in Hartford, said, “I work with this media. It’s about access to information. The government is not only for selected persons. (Besides Spanish-speakers), there are other (non-English-speaking) communities, too, that need this information.”

Lack of Ad Dollars on Public Safety Issues

“It’s a much larger issue than just information around emergencies. You have to look at budgeting for marketing and communication,” Colón said. When the state undertakes an informational program intended to help everybody, such as about not drinking and driving, “when the laws are being written, I think it’s really important that the marketing (dollars) are split. “Bridgeport, for example, is nearly 40% percent Latino. It’s not (just) ‘let’s get a person to do press releases,’” Colón said. All state communication efforts – whether press releases or paid advertising — should include the Spanish-language media. “A lot of the stuff we do in emergencies we do out of duty, we do for love,” not because it helps pay the bills, he said.
Bauza said, “This media is small business. They are mom-and-pops.” They don’t get national advertising or paid ads for state campaigns such as “See Something, Say Something.”
As for the state sending English-language press releases and expecting someone at the media outlet to translate them into Spanish. Lucy Goicoechea-Hernández, special projects director for LPRAC said, “It’s not fair, it’s not right. They just assume we’re going to give away our intellectual property for free.”
Werner Oyanadel, executive director of LPRAC, said, “The state does not have a mandate for language services. We are trying to facilitate and maybe connect the dots so that communication between the state and the Latino media can be expedited.” The hearing was the first of three LPRAC plans to hold. In subsequent sessions, they will be seeking input from state officials and agencies involved in disseminating information to the media in emergencies and state residents who speak only Spanish.
Oyandel said the commission’s goal is to complete the process report on its findings by the beginning of February. University of Connecticut associate professor Diana I. Rios, who is working on the study with LPRAC Commissioner Lourdes E. Montalvo and Jaime Gómez, dean of Eastern Connecticut State University’s School of Education and Professional Studies, noted that the session was being recorded and will be transcribed. She, Gómez and Montalvo will then read the transcripts, to determine common themes that emerge.