This story is part of How we know what we know: An investigative series.
Last November, the Brookings Institution published a commentary piece titled “Why Spanish-language mis-and disinformation is a huge issue in 2022.” The piece noted that the Hispanic population made up nearly 20% of the U.S. population and cited Nielsen Media Data conclusion that they are more likely to “receive, consume, and share ‘fake news’ and misinformation online compared to the general population.”
The study concluded that such information was particularly damaging when it came to the pandemic.
“Analysis of online misinformation also found that Facebook (now Meta) failed to flag 70% of Spanish-language misinformation surrounding COVID-19 compared to just 29% of such information in English,” according to Brookings.
Radio is a particularly important offender, the study added: “The use of Spanish-language radio has been particularly damaging to Latinos because of its prevalence, as well as the fact that Spanish-language media outlets offer little to no response to misinformation, allowing conspiracy theories to spread.”
To consider the importance of this conclusion, we approached Mega TV, a Miami-based television station that delivers diverse content directed at the Hispanic community. In 2021, the station introduced a new segment, “Sevcec,” a program hosted by Uruguayan news reporter Pedro Sevcec.
With over three decades of experience in the news world, Sevcec has been a featured reporter on Telemundo, “Ocurrio Asi,” WSUA Miami on Radio Caracol, and also served as director of local news at El Nuevo Herald, where he shared in a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Hurricane Andrew. Now he gathers stories, manages, produces, and presents his program on Mega TV, which, he said, employs no formal fact checkers, though is careful about what it shows public.
“When you are running a program, there are certain things in which you have no other choice than to trust the sources you are using,” he says, adding that there is never “100% security in terms of what we are delivering to the public.”
Still, he believes his sources try to do things “as best as possible” and also that people rarely pass false information with bad intentions. He mentions that people usually provide insight based on their perception of how something happened.
On his show, he prides himself on covering both sides of issues and maintaining his credibility by avoiding sensationalism when it comes to delicate topics.
He states the best way to handle news on politics is to give all parties the same amount of airtime. This demonstrates the station is non-partisan. He recalls one time when a Republican lawyer had denied the COVID pandemic even existed. had ever happened since the lawyer believed for there to be a pandemic an epidemic had to take place first.
Sevcec says he responded “I say, sir, what are you talking about? Please, 200,000 people have already died. And a pandemic, the definition is established and it is fulfilled when an epidemic spreads to several countries and then it becomes that word… A lot of Republicans complained that I had been too hard on the [guy].”
In the past, he notes,the news world moved very fast, “And so, it’s been my turn to arrive in a helicopter to a place, have two hours to gather information about a fight between guerrillas and military in the middle of a jungle, and get on the helicopter back, and have to present a report on the subject.”
When asked if Mega TV has a fact-checking team, Sevcec responds by saying that the information that passes through MegaTV comes and goes so fast, that the only way to know what to believe is to stay up to date with news from all over the world.
Some challenges he has encountered have been the difficulties brought on by the journalism world due to AI, and the constant spread of both information and misinformation on social media. Sevcec says that when receiving input from his program on social media, the context is the key “…the things that appear on social media are the ones that we fight the most for, or confirm, or discard…yes although later it turns out to be true because it scares you.” He says that even if a story from social media is correct, these are extremely difficult to corroborate.
Even if a news story sent from social media might be interesting, that is not the goal of his program “I leave happy when the show ends because the battle we fought is to not broadcast invention.”
He also says that the misinformation spread in the last decade has created a declining trust in journalism. Sevcec expresses the importance of not only being informed as a journalist but also as an audience.
Sevcec added that he has at times attempted to guide Hispanics away from misinformation when he hears it, to which people have responded to him, “How are you going to believe that?… And how much do you earn for saying those things? Or what I was telling you. Do you know what they call you? Communist.”
In response to what journalists can do to combat this, Sevcec says that other than being honest ,journalists also “…have to be as brave as you can or control fear as best as you can. Because there are certain circumstances in which you can find yourself losing your job.”
In today’s day and age, where information is spread so quickly, Sevcec provides insight into the job journalists can do to be as truthful and unbiased as possible. As far as the part that he plays, he tries to be as human as possible and take people’s objective experiences and put them into perspective. He decides that all parties for all perspectives should be shared, indicating that a non-partisan environment is the best option in his opinion to maintain journalistic integrity.
His journey has not been easy; Sevcec agrees that the rise of AI and fake news has put a barrier in the trust people have had for journalism. As far as what is in his power is to continue to navigate the new world with the most amount of integrity.