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CNN Negotiating for a National Spanish Newscast

February 16, 1988|VICTOR VALLE | Times Staff Writer

Cable News Network is negotiating with a major Spanish-language network to produce a national newscast in Spanish, making it the first for an English-language TV network.

The CNN show would replace the half-hour "Noticiero Telemundo," which is produced in Miami by a Latino-owned company.

The deal, which could be completed with the Telemundo Television Group this week, has prompted criticism from some Latinos about the control of Spanish-language television in this country.

They argue that replacing "Noticiero Telemundo"--the national network newscast that is produced by Hispanic-American Broadcasting Corp. (HBC)--will further undercut the ability of Latinos to become station owners.

Telemundo, which owns KVEA-TV Channel 52 in Glendale and six other stations nationwide, has come in for the kind of criticism that was directed at Hallmark Cards Corp. when it bought 10 Spanish-language stations last year.

"All of us at HBC have the same feeling about this, and it's horrible disillusionment," said Pedro Sevcec, news director at HBC. "We've busted our hearts to make this a more efficient and truly Latino newscast. The reward we get is that (Telemundo) is negotiating with a news service that is not Latino."

Sevcec said that Telemundo is only interested in CNN's offer to save money.

Henry R. Silverman, chief executive officer for the Telemundo Group, said he sympathizes with HBC employees and acknowledged that CNN has offered to produce a newscast for significantly less than the $3.6 million that HBC charged Telemundo last year.

Still, Silverman said, "Cost is not the issue. The issue is who is going to do a better job of covering events around the world for the Hispanic market."

He would not comment on whether he was dissatisfied with HBC: "I don't want to knock our product."

CNN officials have declined to reveal the names of the staff for the pilot newscast. But Sevcec said CNN recently hired away HBC reporter Maria Elvira Salazar, a move that indicates to him that a deal will soon be struck.

Such a prospect saddens Ana Veciana Suarez, a Miami Herald reporter and author of a book on Spanish-language media: "All of a sudden, U.S. corporations see that we are a growing market. They are going to make money off of us, but it's not going to go back to us, except in jobs."

Disagreeing sharply with Suarez, Silverman said: "I think (the ownership issue) is a total red herring. I don't think it has anything to do with anything. What's important is that (U.S.) Hispanics are making the programming decisions."

While CNN's possible move into Spanish-language television worries some Latinos, it may nevertheless provide another example of how the boundaries separating the industry from its English-language counterpart have begun to blur.

Major U.S. firms that have spent two years consolidating their broadcasting footholds in domestic Latino television have begun to lay the foundations that may soon give them the means to compete for a larger share of the world's 308 million Spanish speakers.

Hallmark is strengthening its programming capabilities by negotiating the purchase of Univision, the Mexican-owned network that has pioneered Spanish-language television in the United States. A final agreement is expected to be reached today, sources close to the negotiations said Friday.

Telemundo Television Group plans to film the first telenovela (Spanish-language soap opera) dramatizing the lives of U.S. Latinos. Network officials say the show already has buyers in Latin America.

Meanwhile, new developments in satellite communications may help Spanish-language programmers in the United States reverse, if ever so slightly, the flow of programming from Latin America. In March, Greenwich, Conn.-based Panamsat plans to launch a satellite called Simon Bolivar that could facilitate the development of international networks in Latin America and the exporting of Spanish-language programming from the United States to Latin America.

CNN, for its part, makes no secret of its desire to sell its wares in Latin America and Europe. But network officials have declined to say whether they will turn around and sell their Telemundo newscast internationally.

Nevertheless, Univision President Luis Nogales, who said he turned down a CNN overture last year because he felt it would dilute the U.S. Latino point of view of his network's newscasts, believes such a move is inevitable. He conjectured that Telemundo could end up subsidizing a Spanish-language news show that CNN could turn around and sell internationally as an enticement for its other cable programs.

HBC's "Noticiero Telemundo" already is bought whole or in part by broadcasters in five Central and South American countries. Univision newscasts are picked up whole or in part by broadcasters in 12 Latin American countries, including Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, which refuse to pay for the news feeds, a network spokeswoman said.

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