VOA Spanish began broadcasting to Latin American on March 12, 1960. Today, the service reaches more than 36 million people in 17 countries across the region. The Spanish Service produces content for radio, television, web and mobile. El Mundo al Dia (The World Today) and Foro Interamericano (Inter-American Forum), two thirty-minute TV programs featuring international news and issues relevant to Latin America, are among the service’s most popular shows.
Latin American media markets are diverse. In some countries, e.g., Venezuela and Mexico, media are labeled “Not Free,” while in others, they are evolving and growing. Threats to freedom of expression as well as political instability, drug trafficking, organized crime and corruption continue to be challenges in the region in addition to anti-American sentiment. In this restrictive media environment, VOA Spanish has significant impact by delivering news and information.
Serving as a Critical Source of News
Among the countries in the region, Venezuela ranks among the lowest in terms of press freedom. In its annual index, Freedom House rates Venezuela as “not free.” Under President Nicolás Maduro, government interference in the private press has worsened. Maduro’s administration demonizes opposition-aligned news outlets and exerts systematic pressure to manipulate the tone and content of reporting. In this environment, VOA Spanish is a crucial source for balanced, comprehensive and impartial news, and offers Venezuelans an opportunity to freely express their views.
After Venezuela’s 2015 elections, when for the first time in 17 years the political opposition won the majority of seats in parliament, opposition leader Maria Corina Machado recognized VOA Spanish’s role in the region: “We are very grateful to Voice of America and to those journalists from around the world that have been following the Venezuelan struggle for freedom and peace and democracy during these years."
Juan Alberto Barrios, leader of the opposition coalition COPE, also praised VOA’s role in Venezuela: “During this very difficult time in our country, where we see control of the media, we would like to congratulate the Voice of America because of its impartiality, because it not only interviews one particular group. It covers people and views from all sides of the political spectrum, including those who represent the government.”
Meeting Audience Demand
During the past decade, Latin American media markets have made great strides in improving their technologies and offering diverse content. An in-depth understanding of these markets and their needs led to VOA formulating new strategies. The Washington Bureau programming model was developed and implemented, enabling the Voice of America to concentrate on covering U.S. stories that resonate with Central and South American audiences. This strategy has been immensely successful for VOA Spanish, with the service’s weekly audience growing from 5 million people in 2008 to more than 36 million people in 2015.
Collaborating with Affiliates
VOA Spanish has developed successful partnerships with leading Latin American television and radio broadcasters, including Cable Noticias (Colombia), RPP and ATV (Peru), Azteca TV (Mexico) and Artear (Argentina).
“We treat the people from our affiliates as our clients,” says VOA Spanish Service Chief Iscar Blanco. “There is no difference between radio, television or web. If a client makes a request, we do everything within our power to fulfill the request. To us, our customers’ satisfaction is of the highest importance,” says Blanco.
The service alerts regional media partners on what the Voice of America is covering on any given day. Using WhatsApp, VOA Spanish is in constant contact with regional broadcasters, helping them meet their programming needs. This collaboration has been mutually beneficial, with affiliate journalists sometimes reporting for VOA.
Among the hundreds of VOA Spanish affiliates, TV Azteca in Mexico (the second-largest Spanish-language network in the world) and Peru’s top-rated ATV rely on VOA regularly. The service recently welcomed a new affiliate in Chile, Radio Agricultura, one of the top three networks in the country. In Venezuela and Bolivia, where media markets are tightly controlled by the government, the few independent media are VOA affiliates. As a result, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson commended Voice of America Spanish language broadcasts for “getting a great deal of information through” to the region.