A pair of prominent Hispanic lawmakers, including the chairman of The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, last week encouraged the FCC to approve the proposed merger of Univision and Hispanic Broadcasting.
In separate letters to FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Democrats Ciro Rodriguez of Texas and Jose Serrano of New York, also a caucus member, argued that the merger of the nation's largest Hispanic radio and TV companies would benefit the Hispanic audience by expanding service and attracting more mainstream advertisers.
Serrano went so far as to suggest that treating the Spanish-language market as a separate entity for regulatory purposes would be a form of segregation. The seven-term congressman representing The Bronx, told Powell that isolating the market will create a "separate but unequal" category of Spanish stations that should be "offensive to all Americans." He said he is "alarmed by the efforts of some to segregate by regulation those broadcast stations that choose to serve Hispanic audiences."
Rodriguez, who was speaking for himself and not the caucus, which has taken no official position on the issue, wrote that Hispanic broadcasters "should not be penalized because of their choice of programming format or the ethnicity of their audience."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez and at least one member of the House Hispanic Caucus have criticized the merger. Menendez wrote to the FCC back in March urging that Spanish-language media should be considered a separate market.
If commissioners decide that the Spanish-language market is separate, the merger would likely be conditioned on divestitures. Justice approval already requires Univision to sell most of its interest in Spanish-language broadcaster Entravision.
Serrano said the FCC should review the merger applying the same rules that it uses with other mergers. Univision and HBC, he says, should be allowed to create a Hispanic company on a scale to compete with ABC/Disney, NBC/Telemundo and Viacom/Infinity. "Ultimately," he said, "I am confident that the merged company will continue to expand opportunities for Hispanic viewers and listeners."
The FCC's Republican majority is expected to approve the $3.5 billion deal (Justice has already signed off), perhaps as early as this week.—Bill McConnell contributed to this story.