Hispanic Television Merger Riles Democrats

Access to the ever more lucrative Hispanic media market has taken a political turn as leading Democrats have announced opposition to a proposed merger between Univision (search) and the Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation (search).

The $3 billion merger would create the nation's largest Spanish-speaking media conglomerate. Univision, owned by Jerry Perenchio (search), a registered Republican, is the nation's largest Hispanic television network. Its proposed merger partner, HBC, owns 65 Hispanic radio stations, more than twice its closest competitor. Combined, the two media outlets broadcast in Spanish to virtually every one of the nation's 35 million Hispanic Americans.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search) and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) have complained that combining the two will give conservatives control over the Hispanic media.

Leading the charge to kill the merger, Daschle has argued that it will reduce competition and diminish Hispanic media ownership.

"Dominance of the Spanish language media by one corporation can have the same negative effect for many Latinos as dominance of English language media can have for the general population," Daschle wrote in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.

But former Clinton Cabinet member Henry Cisneros (search) supports the merger and said national Democrats are just playing politics. Cisneros, a life-long Democrat and former housing secretary whose four-year investigation by a special prosecutor ended with a single misdemeanor plea, said opposition is headlong and shortsighted.

"Some of them jumped in before they had all the facts," he said.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bob Menendez (search), chairman of the House Hispanic Caucus, has accused Univision of slanting its news coverage to win White House backing for the merger.

Menendez said he believes the White House "made calls" to win supportive Univision coverage of the fight to confirm Miguel Estrada's nomination to the Federal Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit, the second most powerful court in the country.

Univision and the White House vehemently deny the charge. Cisneros said Univision's Republican owner doesn't meddle with the news division.

"Some have criticized Univision's recent coverage because it includes a lot of President Bush.  Well, national events and international decisions dictate that the president be covered extensively," he said.

Cisneros was president of Univision from 1997 to 2000. He has no financial stake in the company any longer but has decided to tangle with Democrats because he thinks their opposition is part of a broader war against all media mergers.

"It's pretty much a politics as usual tactical fight that's going on," he said.

The Justice Department's anti-trust division approved the merger in March after Univision agreed to sell radio stations it already owned in order to avoid concentrated Univision ownership in certain markets after it merges with HBC.

An FCC decision on whether to approve the merger is due next month.

Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.