Univision as donor network?

Jerry Perenchio’s television network has come under fire from critics as an
outlet for politicians and political causes that the billionaire political
donor supports.

The criticism dates back to 1998, when the Univision network came out
against Prop. 227, the bilingual education initiative. It continued this
year when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has received more than $2.25
million in direct contributions from Mr. Perenchio, appeared in an hour-long
special without sharing the stage with his Democratic opponents.

Schwarzenegger appeared on Voz y Vota, the state’s only Spanish-language
public affairs program, less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 special
election. The show’s regular political analyst and co-host, Arnoldo Torres,
was pulled from his usual role, as the format was change to an audience
question-and-answer session.

Torres says that Perenchio’s giving, and Schwarzenegger’s solo appearance,
have created unease about Univision’s political leanings.

“There is no doubt that the [Voz y Vota] program has created in the minds of
many that the network is a Republican network,” said Torres. “The fact that
Perenchio has contributed the amount he has contributed to Schwarzenegger
has reinforced that attitude.”

The Schwarzenegger special was not the first time a sitting governor, and
beneficiary of Perenchio’s largesse, was given an hour-long special on Voz y
Vota. Shortly before the recall, then-Gov. Gray Davis held a similar solo
town-hall style event on the network. Perenchio had donated more than $1
million to Davis, dating back to 1992.

“The fact that Perenchio gives to all governors–that is his business,” said
Torres, who also did not host the Davis special. “But it has begun to play a
role in identifying, for some, what the leanings of this network are. Is
that dangerous? I think it is.”

Other Univision sources insist, however, that the programs with both
Schwarzenegger and Davis were news-driven decisions.

Ron Unz, who sponsored the 1998 anti-bilingual education initiative
Proposition 227, also argues that the network has skewed to support
Perenchio-backed causes. Perenchio was the largest contributor to the No on
227 campaign, giving $1.5 million, at the time one of the largest single
donations to an initiative campaign in California history.

The network ran a series of what Unz denounces as “advertorials,” brief
in-house promotions–not paid ads–urging a “no” vote.

Propositions “187, 209, and 227–they are not simply numbers, they are
measures that limit the education of your children, they put our children’s
health at risk, and they take away our right to work,” said one such promo,
according to a 1998 New Times report.

And in a May 23 debate held on Univision, the moderator asked the four
gubernatorial candidates for a “simple and clear answer” to how they would
vote on Proposition 227. The strings of “no” responses, some of which were
only elicited with follow-up questions, was turned into a commercial for the
Perenchio-backed No on 227 campaign.

Univision denied that the moderator was looking for sound bites, and
Democratic consultant Richie Ross, who produced the commercial, said that
there was no coordination with the company.

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