Latinos upset by Spanish media merger

BY
BY TOMISLAV LADIKA
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 29, 2003

Last week's merger between the leading Spanish-language television and radio companies into one media conglomerate has drawn criticism from University students because the chairman of the new company is a non-Hispanic Republican.

"There is so much power being put into the hands of people who are not supportive of Latinos," said Engineering junior Florentino Maldonado, an organizer of the Latino Media Merger Forum that was scheduled to be held in East Hall last night.

Raul Alarcon, chief executive officer of rival Spanish Broadcasting System, was expected to speak about the effects of the merger and why it should have been declared illegal, but his flight from Miami was delayed several hours.

The multi-billion dollar merger, which was approved by the Federal Communications Commission last Monday, joins Univision Communications' television, music and Internet resources with the Hispanic Broadcasting Company's radio media.

Univision's three television stations reach out to 97 percent of Hispanic households, while HBC controls 65 radio stations in 17 Hispanic markets, according to an Univision news release. Hispanics constitute the nation's largest minority with about 35 million people, 14 percent of the U.S. population.

Univision will become the parent company of HBC, which will be renamed Univision Radio.

Controversy over the deal arose because Univision, which now controls about 70 percent of Spanish-language advertising revenue, is headed by Chief Executive Officer Jerrold Perenchio, a conservative Italian-American.

Engineering Senior Edgar Garza, another organizer of the forum, said Hispanic students at the University are concerned because most of the new conglomerate's chairmen "are supporting issues that hurt us."

Between 1994 and 1996 Perenchio donated money to former Calif. Gov. Pete Wilson, who supported California's Proposition 187 to restrict the children of illegal immigrants from access to public education.

Univision's news programs also cover little opposition to President Bush's policies, including the war in Iraq and Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada to the Supreme Court, Garza said.

"The Bush administration needs the Latino vote to get him re-elected. The two companies in the merger support Bush," he said. "They also have very biased viewpoints. ... There was much opposition to Estrada, but it was not announced."

Garza added that he is equally concerned that the merger may reduce competition in the Hispanic media and that Univision's chairmen may use the revenues to donate political issues that most Hispanics do not support.

Maldonado said the company has promised that programming would not change after the merger, adding that "we're more concerned about where the power lies."

Spanish-language media are the only news source for many Hispanics, Maldonado said. "In some cases that's all they'll hear," he said.

Despite the students' concerns that Univision may not accurately represent the views of the Hispanic community, the chairmen of Univision and HBC said the merger will place Spanish-language media on a level playing field with other media conglomerates.

"Our employees will see expanded professional opportunities, our audiences will enjoy expanded news, information and entertainment programming and we will be able to better serve our communities, both locally and nationally, with even deeper involvement," said Univision Radio President Mac Tichenor, the former CEO of HBC, in a written statement.

More than 100 Hispanic organizations supported the merger, including the Hispanic Media Coalition and civil rights group La Raza, Perenchio said in the statement.

Politicians encouraging the merger included Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Baxter (D-Calif.), according to the statement.

"We continue to be guided by our commitment to serve our audience, and we take great pride in the unique role Univision plays in the lives of millions of Hispanic Americans," Perenchio said.

"We expect that Univision's new ability to offer advertisers the brand-building power of television in combination with the promotional power of radio will accelerate their development of Spanish-language marketing campaigns," he added.

Perenchio also donated $1.5 million to fight California's Proposition 227, which would have abolished the state's bilingual public education system.

The Latino Media Merger Forum is part of a greater effort to increase awareness about the merger and its possible repercussions among Hispanic students at the University, many of who do not realize that the merger took place, Garza said.

In addition to educating students on campus, Maldonado said he also plans to contact state legislators, Congressmen, University administrators and media outlets about the issue.

Increased awareness among the Hispanics may affect how they vote in the 2004 election, he added. As a result, Bush and politicians serving constituencies dominated by Hispanics may need to address the merger and its effects, he said.