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In battleground Arizona, a Latino radio station takes on the fight against political disinformation

Radio Campesina, founded by the civil rights icon and labor leader Cesar Chavez, wants to ensure the state's Hispanic voters are not dissuaded from casting their ballots.
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PHOENIX — In the battleground state of Arizona, an unlikely media player is positioning itself as a major purveyor of truth amid a landscape filled with misinformation and disinformation — most notably some Republicans' false claims of election fraud in the state during the 2020 elections.

Radio Campesina in Phoenix, part of a network of eight Spanish-language radio stations scattered throughout California, Arizona and Nevada, is aiming to dispel doubts about voting and the election process ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

On Radio Campesina's recent morning show, "Punto de Vista" ("Point of View"), radio host Osvaldo Franco was fielding questions from listeners. One person called in asking whether their vote would get lost if they mailed in their ballot.

"I love that question; I love it because you can track your ballot," another host reassured the caller. Mail-in voting had been a popular way of voting in the state until some Republicans started sowing doubts about its safety following former President Donald Trump's loss in 2020.

It’s easy to overlook the significance of stations like Radio Campesina, given today’s crowded and increasingly global media landscape. But the network’s familial bond with the Latino community dates back decades.

The Radio Campesina network was founded by the labor activist and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez in 1983 as a way to serve the needs of the Spanish-speaking community —?immigrant farmworkers, truck drivers, laborers — to get news about politics, workers' rights and immigration raids, all with a little ranchera music sprinkled in on the side. Its stations reach over 750,000 weekly listeners and is owned by the Cesar Chavez Foundation, a nonprofit.

Radio Campesina’s reach and effectiveness as a trusted messenger in the Phoenix community is undeniable. Nationally, radio is an effective way to reach Latinos: According to a Nielsen report released last month, 94% of Latinos over 18 listen to radio on a monthly basis, more than any other platform.

Latinos who are old enough to vote make up almost a quarter (23.7%) of Arizona's population, according to the NALEO Educational Fund.

Many Latinos in Arizona have had a fraught and complicated relationship with the state's politics: Then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his agency racially profiled and illegally detained Latinos, according to a federal district judge's 2013 ruling, and SB 1070, known as the "show me your papers law," led to lawsuits after Hispanics said they were unfairly targeted. In 2022, Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said she would formally declare an invasion in the state due to migration at the border.

“The voter in Arizona has been through some things,” said Carolina Rodriguez-Greer, state director in Arizona for Mi Familia Vota, a national group focused on Latino voter mobilization and civic engagement. “Getting to participate in elections in Arizona has cost us a lot and we don’t take this for granted.”

Countering misinformation — at the rodeo

On a recent Saturday, Radio Campesina partnered with Mi Familia Vota for a rodeo night where they also registered new voters and filmed “testimonials” with voters aimed at dispelling myths about election fraud.?

In casual conversation with people attending the rodeo, some echoed some of the ongoing misinformation and disinformation around the 2020 election and voting in general.

One woman was asked what she thought of Trump’s claims that he won the 2020 election.?

“Well, yes, it could be, because many people love him,” she said.

Another woman said she'd heard that "racists" choose to not count some ballots after they've been cast.

Misinformation can often feed off that deeply rooted mistrust, creating an environment of apathy and disillusionment around the voting process.

What makes the current landscape of false narratives more damaging is the fact that Spanish-language misinformation tends to stay online longer than English misinformation, according to several studies and groups that study the issue.

This makes Radio Campesina’s long-standing presence in the community even more critical.?

Latinos were pivotal in turning the state blue in 2020 for the first time since 1996, and President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is banking on radio's reach. It recently launched Spanish-language radio ads on Radio Campesina and other Spanish-language stations in Arizona and Nevada, saying it's the earliest-ever investment in Latino radio for a Democratic re-election effort.

On Nov. 21, Biden went further,?joining Radio Campesina for an interview, where he addressed his plans to grow the economy, pass comprehensive immigration reform and help recipients in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Biden told listeners he could relate to growing up "paycheck to paycheck" but touted that 4.2 million more Latinos have jobs than when he first got into office.

He also pointed out to listeners that Cesar Chavez's granddaughter, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, is the campaign manager of his re-election campaign.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request on its specific plans for Latino outreach in Arizona.

'More than ever'

Amid call-in shows and voter registration drives, Radio Campesina acknowledges the unprecedented challenges the station is facing within the echo chamber of mis- and disinformation and its potential impact to dampen the Latino vote in 2024.

But Radio Campesina believes in its role as a trusted conduit to the Spanish-speaking community, a demographic that has the potential to decide the presidential election in 2024.

"They trust the brand," said María Barquin, Radio Campesina program director. "We have been there at the front lines — they need us now more than ever."

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