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Greater Role for U.S. Latinos

January 12, 1986

A recent federal ruling endangers the broadcasting licenses of 13 Spanish-language television stations across the country, including KMEX in Los Angeles. Because the stations play a unique role in serving the nation's large Latino population, any changes made as a result of the ruling should give U.S. Latinos a greater role in their operation.

A Federal Communications Commission law judge last week upheld an FCC staff finding that the owners of the 13 stations were in effect acting as fronts for Mexican investors in violation of federal laws prohibiting foreign ownership of more than 20% of a U.S. broadcasting station. While it can be argued that Mexican ownership of U.S. television stations does not pose the potential threat that, say, Libyan ownership might, it is important that the FCC uphold the law.

However, it is equally important that the FCC realize that the 13 stations, all affiliates of the Spanish International Network, serve an audience largely ignored by English-language media. In the 25 years since it was founded, SIN has not just been a source of entertainment for U.S. Latinos. It has also been a communications vehicle that has promoted a variety of worthy community efforts, including voter-registration drives and fund-raising efforts like last year's telethon for the relief of Mexican earthquake victims. It would be ironic if the FCC ruling were to deprive the nation's second-largest minority of a key community resource.

Still, there is room for improvement in SIN. Latino activists complain that the network's news operations are controlled out of Mexico City rather than by local stations. The result is more news about Latin America than about Latino barrios in this country. And Latino producers, actors and other creative artists complain that the network prefers to air cheap, pre-packaged shows from Mexico rather than to produce entertainment programming in the United States. That can change now--if SIN management sees the FCC ruling as an opportunity rather than as a threat.

SIN management should work with the FCC staff to prepare a reorganization plan for the network to bring it not just within the letter of the law but within the spirit of it as well. That means reducing Mexican influence in the network's ownership and programming, and replacing it with contributions by U.S. Latinos.

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