Cultural proximity and the reception of international news channels in Latin America


As the second most spoken language in terms of native speakers, Spanish has long been a popular choice among news channels trying to expand their international reach (e.g. CNN, Deutsche Welle, etc.). A phenomenon less studied is the proliferation of non-western news outlets broadcasting in Spanish and their impact in Latin American countries. Instrumental to the public diplomacy strategies of their home countries, their effect is still subject to debate due to a lack of reliable data on viewership. As part of a larger research project that explores whether international news channels can have a future in Latin America, this paper discusses the role of cultural proximity among audiences and their perception of international broadcasters such as CGTN (China), RT (Russia) and HispanTV (Iran). Originating in countries that are both geographically and culturally distant, it is pertinent to explore viewers’ attitudes towards this type of international news channels. This study uses a framework of analyses grounded on audience research and perception of mediated messages as conceptualised by scholars from Latin America. It explores three research questions: What sort of a role plays cultural proximity in audience acceptance of international news channels? What aspects of cultural proximity play a more decisive role in the acceptance of international news channels by Latin American audiences? Based on a total of 13 focus groups conducted in Mexico and Argentina between September and October 2016, the findings are considered according to three main areas: language, style and professionalism. The findings show that cultural proximity is indeed a factor to be seriously considered, but it also needs to be understood in its multiple layers of analysis. As cultural systems shape the way people interact and communicate with each other, the cultural aspect also permeates to the way television programmes are designed, from the use of the language and the visual aspect, to the format of the programmes. As cultural and subcultural differences can undermine the perception by audiences, broadcasters need to learn how to navigate different cultural systems – including media systems – and understand how their messages will be perceived and interpreted by viewers overseas. Viewers in Mexico and Argentina appear to be avid for good quality news content and RT seems to be the one closer to fulfilling that need. Contrarily, CCTV-E seemed to be the furthest from achieving its goal, as it was broadly perceived as carrying the official views of the Chinese government, besides other issues.