Univision agrees to $24 mil fine


WASHINGTON -- Univision Communications Inc. has agreed to pay a record $24 million fine as part of a deal over allegations that the nation's largest Spanish-language network broke rules for educational children's programming.

The penalty is part of a consent decree that would pave the way for Univision to complete a $12.3 billion sale to private investors. For the sale to go through -- and Univision's broadcast license transferred -- a majority of the FCC's five commissioners must vote for it.

Commission officials said the deal is being supported by FCC commissioner Kevin Martin, who has been an aggressive enforcer of the nation's content regulations on indecency and is now giving the kidvid rules the same treatment.

"I generally believe that consumers benefit from less regulation, not more," Martin said in a statement. "However, I take broadcasters' responsibilities to serve the public very seriously, especially regarding their children's programming obligations."

The United Church of Christ challenged the broadcast license transfer, saying that Univision violated the 1990 Children's Television Act when it claimed that a telenovela, "Complices al Rescate" (Friends to the Rescue), was educational children's programming. The telenovela follows the adventures of 11-year-old identical twin girls who swap identities after discovering they had been separated at birth.

Under the act, broadcasters must air at least three hours of educational children's TV shows a week.

Commission officials said the National Hispanic Media Coalition challenged a separate license.

"This is a tremendous victory for all of our children," said Rev. Robert Chase, communications director of the UCC. "Too often broadcasters have failed in their obligation to provide quality educational children's programming. This action by the FCC sends a clear signal that media conglomerates must act in the public interest."

Chase said the UCC focused on Univision because its purported educational offering is "little more than a soap opera, with many adult themes and painfully little educational value."

The commission decision indicates that its aggressive enforcement of content regulation will continue. While court decisions over two of its indecency cases are pending, the FCC is also considering asking Congress for the power to enforce new content regulations aimed at depictions of violence (HR 2/16).