LAS MILPAS, RGV – The RGV Equal Voice Network has written to the Federal Communications Commission to try to block the sale of KMBH-TV, the Rio Grande Valley’s PBS station.

“The owners of KMBH-TV recently lost their public broadcasting grant and now are looking (desperately) to sell the station to commercial media. That the poorest and youngest region in the country would lose the benefits and the opportunities of a PBS service is a sinful thing,” said Michael Seifert, network weaver for Equal Voice.

KMBH-TV is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville. Last month, the Diocese’s committee that administers the station announced it was applying to the FCC to flip its channel from non-commercial to commercial and entering into a lease marketing agreement with MBTV Texas Valley, LLC.

Equal Voice represents nine non-profits that help colonias and low-income families in Hidalgo and County counties. It has also set up a Website and Facebook page in order to encourage fans of PBS to sign a petition opposing the sale of the TV station. The petition will be sent to Tim Wheeler, chairman of the FCC.

The RGV Equal Voice Network represents nine non-profit groups that work with and for 30,000 low-income and colonia families in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
The RGV Equal Voice Network represents nine non-profit groups that work with and for 30,000 low-income and colonia families in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.

“The FCC can play a powerful role is slowing or stopping the sale. And there are precedents that say that they hate public pressure. The sale is set for this week. We asking the general public to take a moment to sign our petition, or better, to phone the FCC commissioner to simply say, ‘Why are you allowing PBS services to abandon the Rio Grande Valley? This is one region in the nation that must have the services of public broadcasting’,” Seifert said.

Equal Voice is working with the grassroots group, Save PBS-RGV, which was formed by two members on a citizen’s advisory board set by KMBH’s parent company, RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc. The two are Lupe Saenz, an educator and journalist from Weslaco and Edgar Lopez, a florist from Mission. Equal Voice and Save PBS-RGV are to hold news conference in Las Milpas this afternoon (Tuesday).

Here is the Equal Voice letter sent to Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC. It was authored by Michael Seifert, network weaver for Equal Voice.

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

I am writing to express my objections to the intent by RGV Educational Broadcasting to sell the Public Broadcasting Station KMBH (Harlingen, Texas) to commercial media. The promise of the buyer to continue to offer public broadcasting is questionable on two grounds: their lack of experience in the area and their corporate commitment to commercial broadcast.

We are the poorest region in the nation. We are also a region that loves our children—and the thought that they would be deprived of the benefits of a properly run public broadcasting service that would offer much needed educational services in an injustice.

Please note my objection to this sale.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Seifert.

Saenz, of Save PBS-RGV, has been organizing his own letter-writing campaign. He said he is not necessarily opposed to the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville selling KMBH but wants to ensure that the non-commercial channel it operates stays available for PBS. “PBS has to stay over-the-air. That is the bottom line,” Saenz said. “If PBS is only available via cable or satellite, 20 percent of KMBH’s viewers will not be able to watch PBS programming. We are talking about low-income families who cannot afford to pay for cable. Colonia kids would be unable to watch PBS’s children’s programs.”

PBS points to research that shows that children who watch its kids programming grow up better educated.

Saenz said his group is angry with the way RGV Educational Broadcasting, Inc., has handled negotiations to sell KMBH-TV. “No one knows who MBTV Texas Valley, LLC, are. This mystery company has yet to issue a statement on what they intend to do with KMBH once they have flipped the channel from commercial to non-commercial. They have not talked to the press. When Mr. Robert spoke to us at a meeting of the Community Advisory Board-Upper Valley in McAllen last week he did not even mention MBTV by name. He gave us no information on who they are and where they are from.”

The “Mr. Robert” Saenz refers to is Robert Gutierrez, president of KMBH.

In his remarks to the community advisory board, Gutierrez said PBS would continue in the Valley, even if the TV station is sold to a commercial entity. Asked where things were at with the sale, Gutierrez told the board: “I can’t say too much but it is moving forward. I just don’t know how long it is going to take.” Asked by Saenz if the station’s sale had been advertised, Gutierrez said no.

“They are just as concerned about the future of PBS as is anybody. PBS is going to be in the Valley. It ain’t going anywhere. It is going to stay here. They know the importance of PBS down here. This is a very important region of the country,” Gutierrez said. Asked by a reporter who “they” were, Gutierrez said: “I am talking about the attorneys who are working on this. I am talking about PBS, CPB. I am talking about everybody understanding what is going on. They are concerned. There is a grand effort to make sure there is no loss of programming for PBS.”

CPB stands for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Click here to view the Web site set up by Equal Voice to “save” PBS in the Valley.

Click here to view the Spanish-language Web site set up by Equal Voice to “save” PBS in the Valley.

Equal Voice’s Facebook page to “save” PBS in the Valley is called “Big Bird Belongs in the Valley. Click here to view it.

The news conference, hosted jointly by Equal Voice and Save PBS-RGV, is being held at the ARISE Community Center in Las Milpas. The address is 25 Denny Drive, Pharr, Texas. The conference starts at 2:45 p.m.