Another influential congressional block has come out in opposition to
EchoStar Communications Corp.'s proposed acquisition of Hughes Electronics Corp.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which includes 18 members of Congress,
said the proposal will be bad for diversity and for Americans in general.
"After careful consideration of diversity concerns regarding media
consolidation and EchoStar's response to such concerns, we are not convinced
that the proposed merger between EchoStar and the Hughes Electronics subsidiary,
DirecTV [Inc.], will create new specific benefits for Americans, in particular, the
Latino community," the caucus members wrote.
In its defense, an EchoStar spokesman said the company was "disappointed with
the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' position, especially since EchoStar and
DirecTV provide the largest Spanish-language programming packages in the United
"Satellite-TV providers offer over 20 Spanish-speaking channels like TV
AZTECA from Mexico and CNN en Español ... more than any cable-television
company. In addition, EchoStar and DirecTV deliver over 40 local
Spanish-language TV stations in the 42 local TV markets they serve today and
expect that number to increase once the merger provides the capacity to reach
all 210 TV markets."
The Congressional Rural Caucus, the Congressional Western Caucus and 11 rural
Senators all have sent the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications
Commission letters asking for at least "careful consideration" and strong
conditions on the merger.
In March, however, CHC chairman Sylvestre Reyes (D-Texas) endorsed the deal,
stating: "Both EchoStar and DirecTV have taken extra steps to provide family-oriented programming, weather, sports and news in Spanish -- including
programming from the Caribbean and Latin America. The merger also holds the
promise of allowing more independent networks and more Spanish-language
programming to flourish and prosper." But Reyes also signed last week's letter
of opposition from the CHC.
The caucus lists several specific reasons for opposing the merger, including
"EchoStar's ambivalent stance regarding American public-interest concerns,
namely various diversity considerations."
According to the letter, EchoStar "lacks sufficient minority representation
and influence with no explicit practice or plan to outreach within its executive
and other senior-level ranks."
Finally, the caucus said, "EchoStar has not made a firm commitment to ensure
that all broadcasters will have a fair chance to compete in the market."