As it turns 50, Univision still doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up.

Is the nation's largest and most successful Spanish-language network a reputable news agency that holds elected officials from both parties accountable? Or is it a Latino-flavored public relations firm that favors Democrats over Republicans?

Univision does command a certain amount of respect. In this election year, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney made the pilgrimage to Miami to participate in network forums on issues that matter to Latinos.

Judging from the questions that were asked by co-moderators Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, it seems that no issue matters as much as immigration. Salinas and Ramos fired off some of the toughest questions that either Obama or Romney has faced on the issue.

Yet if you watch the nightly newscast, and the Sunday morning public affairs show, it's impossible not to come away with the sense that the network is in the Obama camp.

Univision obviously has capital and leverage. But what does it intend to do with it? What is the mission of the most dominant Spanish-language network in America?

On the one hand, the network caters to a specific niche -- Spanish-speaking adults in the United States, consisting mainly of recent immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens.

On the other, it now wants to broaden that audience and go where the real money is: English, the language in which most Latinos -- particularly those in the heavily sought-after 18-34-year-old demographic -- get their news and entertainment. Univision is partnering with ABC News to launch a channel aimed at English-speaking Latinos, a group we're likely to hear much more from in the future.


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The network also dabbles in advocacy. It likes to pretend that it defends illegal immigrants (although it prefers to call them "undocumented" immigrants) and even made a ruckus recently when it challenged The New York Times and other newspapers to stop using the term "illegal immigrant" in stories.

When it comes to its crusade to defend illegal immigrants, the network has shown time and again that it finds this easier to do when defending them from Republicans. It should also spend some time defending them from Democrats, who are in truth just as big an obstacle to finding a solution to our immigration woes.

In any language, doing serious journalism isn't about making friends. It's about making waves.

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at ruben@rubennavarrette.com.