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Spanish TV Programming Draws Fire

Three months before its debut, a Spanish-language channel that Maryland Public Television is adding to its lineup has set off a wave of denunciations on conservative talk radio.

The station is joining about 20 public television markets in the country that are reaching into the hot Hispanic media market with a 24-hour digital cable network called V-me. The New York-based channel puts a heavy emphasis on educational programming about U.S culture and history. It's got a Spanish version of Sesame Street.

MPT hopes to recognize the growing clout of Latinos in Maryland, whose numbers grew by 41.5 percent from 2000 to 2005, the U.S. Census shows, to as many as 350,000, state officials and Hispanic leaders estimate.

But when the station announced the show 10 days ago, the talk radio airwaves sizzled, led by Del. Patrick L. McDonough, (R-Baltimore County), the father of the oft-failed bill to make English the official language of Maryland.

"It's a bad way to be spending taxpayers' money," said McDonough, who hosts a show on WCBM (680 AM) in Baltimore. "This promotes multiculturism. It's divisive. If we are doing an ethnic channel, why aren't we dedicating this to African Americans?"

McDonough was followed by former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.(R) and his wife Kendel, who blasted the network last week on their weekly Baltimore show on WBAL (1090 AM).

Firing up the controversy further, Ivan Betancourt, a member of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs and and Ehrlich holdover, said on the show that Hispanics should not be accommodated with separate services in Spanish.

But MPT officials say no state money is funding the show, which is free. of charge. The only local segments, for now, will be public service announcements between programming, at minimal cost. About a third of the station's $30 million budget is state-funded.

MPT spokesman Michael Golden said the station has received a number of calls "and some ugly letters" generated by radio coverage. "We went into this with full knowledge that once we made the announcement, the conservative talk show hosts were going to have a field day," he said.

As for Betancourt, whose term is up June 30, "He certainly does not speak for the Hispanic commission or the Latino community," said Haydee Rodriguez, the commission's executive director and also an Ehrlich appointee.

Lisa Rein

By Phyllis Jordan  |  May 14, 2007; 9:37 AM ET
Categories:  Lisa Rein  
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