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DirecTV Hits Back at HITN

DirecTV plans to drop the Hispanic Information & Telecommunications Network, a Spanish-language public-interest channel, June 30, according to the direct-broadcast satellite provider.

DirecTV disclosed its plans to replace HITN with another Spanish-language service in comments Monday to the Federal Communications Commission in a 23-page filing regarding Liberty Media’s proposed $11 billion acquisition of News Corp.’s 38.4% stake in the nation’s largest DBS provider.

DirecTV has carried HITN as part of its public-interest obligation as a DBS provider, under federal law, to set aside part of its channel capacity, 4%, exclusively for noncommercial programming of an educational or informational nature.

The network had been carried on both English- and Spanish-language packages.

HITN is a nonprofit public-interest educational network that is currently available in 15 million homes.

Officials at DirecTV declined to comment Tuesday.

“HITN-TV is America’s only Latino-controlled and managed nonprofit public-interest educational television network," president Jose Luis Rodriguez said in a prepared statement. "It provides unique community-based educational, instructional and cultural programming unavailable from any new or older Spanish-language television network.”

Rodriguez continued, “It has had a productive, mutually beneficial relationship with DirecTV for more than three years and, as recently as December 2006, at DirecTV’s invitation, was exploring ways to expand its relationship. While the timing of their renewal notice is troubling, we continue to have discussions with DirecTV related to our carriage agreement, which we hope are productive. The larger issue at stake here is whether independent, unaffiliated minority controlled networks have a place in a consolidated media environment. If not, there is no such thing as diversity -- it would be

HITN is among a group of companies, including EchoStar Communications, which have filed separate comments with the FCC opposing the Liberty-DirecTV deal.

“In the current era of media consolidation, independent programming providers such as HITN provide important and needed content that is desired by Americans and not available from consolidated media,” HITN told the FCC in its eight-page filing. “The FCC should take strong action to ensure that independent voices are not squeezed out of the media landscape. Independent channels like HITN promote diversity and competition.”

In response to HITN’s comments, DirecTV told the FCC that it informed the Hispanic network that its programming will no longer be carried as of June.

“Not surprisingly, HITN is unhappy about this,” DirecTV said, adding that it “intends to replace HITN with alternative Spanish-language noncommercial programming that DirecTV believes would be of greater interest to its subscribers.”

According to DirecTV, it is in negotiations with V-me, a Spanish-language multicast channel that debuted in March and airs original programming, U.S. TV premieres and acquisitions. Educational Broadcasting -- which holds the license for public broadcaster WNET in New York -- is a minority investor in the network. The rest of the network partnership is made up of private investors, including The Baeza Group and Syncom Funds.

In its FCC filing, DirecTV said V-me “offers a 24-hour schedule of Spanish-language programming similar in genre and comparable in quality to the Educational Broadcasting Corp.’s English-language service.”

Regarding HITN’s allegations, DirecTV claimed that the network “provides no reason to suspect that the proposed transaction will have any effect whatsoever on DirecTV’s future compliance with its noncommercial-programming-carriage obligations, much less its current compliance.”

In its FCC filing, DirecTV said that under the law, it has discretion to select among qualified public-interest programmers.

“In exercising that discretion, DirecTV makes every effort to choose the programming that it believes will make its overall service as attractive and compelling for viewers as possible,” the DBS provider added.

V-me is getting a carriage boost in part via a 2005 agreement between the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and the Association of Public Television Stations, which ensured that at least one local public TV analog signal, plus four digital channels, would be carried by each of the major cable operators.