Dems aim to block merger of Hispanic media empires

WASHINGTON: Democrats in Congress are lining up to stop a merger that could lead to conservative dominance of Spanish-language news media and a Democratic disadvantage when it comes to winning the most coveted minority vote in 2004.

WASHINGTON: Democrats in Congress are lining up to stop a merger that could lead to conservative dominance of Spanish-language news media and a Democratic disadvantage when it comes to winning the most coveted minority vote in 2004.

Univision Communications, the nation's largest Spanish-language media company, wants to acquire its second-closest competitor, the Hispanic Broadcasting Company (HBC). If approved, the $2.5 billion merger would put Republican billionaire CEO Jerry Perenchio, 72, in charge of nearly 100 Spanish-language outlets, including Univision, the largest TV network, and the largest chain of radio stations. Clear Channel owns nearly one-third of HBC.

Congressional Democrats have long accused Univision of unfair coverage, particularly in the recent debate over President Bush's nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal bench.

Because studies show that Hispanics - now the largest minority in America - get the lion's share of their news from Spanish-language media outlets, Democrats fear that the merger could result in an almost total loss of access to those votes come the 2004 elections.

"If you closely examine the results of the 2000 election, it becomes extremely clear just how much is at stake during the 2004 elections regarding the Hispanic vote," said Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University. He also noted that political scientists have been calling the Hispanic vote "the sleeping giant of American politics" for nearly a decade, and that 2004 may be the first year in which the community brings its political weight to bear.

Indeed, over the past two years both parties have sunk unprecedented sums into voter-outreach programs exclusively targeting Hispanic Americans.

An FCC decision on the merger was planned for this Monday. Democrats and a broad array of advocacy groups - including the PRSA - were working frantically last week

to postpone the decision in favor of allowing more public comment.

A handful of congressional Democrats, including minority leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), wrote letters to FCC chairman Michael Powell and publications such as The Hill and Roll Call, and The Washington Post ran full-page ads from Univision and third parties either opposing or supporting the deal.

Also at issue is the contention that Univision is not Hispanic-owned. Several senators ran an ad claiming that not one of the company's top executives is Hispanic. Univision ran a counter ad stating that 80% of its staff is Hispanic.

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