- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Public Television’s plan to launch a Spanish language channel is drawing complaints from critics who charge that the publicly funded organization should not be catering to an individual ethnic group.

Critics — some of whom appear to connect the new station to the broader national debate over immigration reform — also questioned the cost of the 24-hour network and MPT’s decision-making process.

The 24-hour Spanish network, called V-me, airs programs in about 20 markets and is scheduled to debut in Maryland in August. V-me, pronounced “veh-meh,” will offer yoga tutorials, weeknight news programs and a Spanish version of Sesame Street, called Plaza Sesamo.

“If we’re going to do an ethnic station, why not an African-American station? Why not children’s programming?” asked Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican who is among the most vocal critics of the new station. “I am going to look more deeply into their process of decision making.”

MPT officials said adding the station — one of three digital channels that MPT will launch as part of its transition to a digital lineup — will cost no additional money and that the same equipment used for other MPT programming can be used to broadcast V-me. The programs will be fed via satellite from New York, and no local programming will be produced.

“It costs us nothing,” said MPT spokesman Michael Golden. “There is no additional cost to doing this. We are getting all this programming for free.”

Officials are adding the network in recognition of the state’s growing diversity. Although relatively small, Maryland’s Hispanic population increased 41.5 percent between 2000 and 2005, a larger growth rate than any other ethnic group, according to U.S. Census estimates.

But opposition continues to be heated on conservative talk radio, including criticism from former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and his wife, Kendel, who host a program on WBAL radio (AM 1090). Some, including Mr. McDonough, have suggested that the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, influenced MPT’s decision to launch the station for political purposes — a claim that MPT has strongly denied.

Rob Douglas, who also hosts a talk show on WBAL radio, told the Baltimore Sun he has received angry e-mails in which some listeners draw a correlation between their concern about a Spanish network and their frustration with illegal entry into the United States.

“Many people believe that those who are primarily Spanish speakers often may be illegal aliens as well,” Mr. Douglas said.

Haydee Rodriguez, executive director of the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said such complaints are based on false information and are divisive.

“Being Hispanic or Latino does not automatically mean someone is here as an undocumented immigrant,” she said.

MPT receives about 35 percent of its funding, or $10.6 million, from the state government. An additional $6.1 million comes from members, and the rest comes from grants, corporate underwriting and the federal government, Mr. Golden said.

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