- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Some Democrats are all hot and bothered about a decision pending at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A proposed merger would put the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. — the largest Spanish-language radio company in the country — under the control of Univision, the leading Spanish-language media company. Opponents are arguing the case ostensibly on media-ownership grounds, that the resultant entity would have too much control over the Hispanic market. But what those trying to spike the merger really are against is Univision’s content, which is not an area the FCC should be regulating.

The heart of the gripe is that Univision — which operates Hispanic cable and broadcast television stations, and Internet, publishing and music divisions — is run by a Republican. Its newscasts also tend to be favorable to Republican positions. With national elections next year, liberals are worried that a merger will mean HBC’s 65 radio stations will help the GOP make inroads into one of the Democratic Party’s important constituencies. There were 7.5 million registered Hispanic American voters in the last presidential election. While Bill Clinton got 75 percent of that vote in 1996 and Al Gore 65 percent in 2000, 55 percent now identify themselves as either independents or Republicans, which means they could be up for grabs in 2004.

In this case, all the antitrust angles have been cleared. A competitor, the Spanish Broadcasting System, filed suit opposing the merger on anti-trust grounds, but the case was dismissed in January. Similarly, on March 26, the Justice Department cleared the merger so long as some minor stock-related issues were addressed. After these decisions, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle complained in a May 6 letter to the FCC that approval of the merger “could significantly impact public debate.” This makes it clear he is pushing for regulation based on content. Approximately two dozen Democrats in Congress have protested the merger for similar reasons.

It does not seem likely that FCC Chairman Michael Powell will come out against the merger. While he will not comment specifically on issues such as this one pending before the commission, in an editorial board meeting with us two days ago, Mr. Powell did say generally about regulation that, “Eighty percent of this debate often is about either not enough content that some community would prefer to see or too much of something that a community does not want to see. And it wants the government’s aid in having that come out more like they want. And this starts to make me queasy.” It is a relief to hear this view. There is going to be political jockeying so long as government has the power to determine what mergers are acceptable and what are not. As we have said in recent editorials, which comports with Chairman Powell’s position, the FCC should not limit how much of a market a corporation can own because some people do not like that company’s programming. In the simplest of terms, successful stations respond to what viewers and listeners want. Pulling the plug is no answer to programming that may be unfavorable to any particular interest.

In a letter sent Friday to Mr. Daschle, New Mexico’s Bill Richardson, the only Hispanic governor (and a Democrat) argued against a “double standard” that hurts the competitiveness of Hispanic groups, saying, “With this merger, a Hispanic-run media company will finally have the scale and scope to attract those national marketers that currently advertise only on English-language media.” Treating Hispanic media companies differently effectively creates a Hispanic media ghetto. That is certainly a territory the FCC should not want to police. We are surprised Mr. Daschle and his colleagues do.

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