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The sale of 2 Spanish talk radio stations may counter the spread of disinformation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two radio stations are for sale in Miami, and normally, a transaction like this gets little attention. But this potential sale has members of the Cuban American community and Republican officials upset. It boils down to politics, charges of disinformation and censorship. And as NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami, the sale is backed by financier George Soros.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: TelevisaUnivision is selling 18 radio stations in 10 markets to a newly formed company, the Latino Media Network. The ones that have gotten the attention, though, are two AM stations in Miami - WQBA and WAQI, known as Radio Mambi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: The stations broadcast in Spanish. For decades, they've been institutions in South Florida's Cuban American exile community. Although the focus is on Cuba, the topics vary. But especially on radio Mambi, the talk radio hosts and their callers favor conservative, sometimes extreme positions. The founders of Latino Media Network say they don't intend to change, quote, "the spirit or the character of the station." But in a statement, they also say they believe in journalistic integrity.

Most alarming to conservative critics of the sale, LMN is backed by a fund affiliated with George Soros, a billionaire and philanthropist known for backing progressive causes. At a news conference, Sylvia Iriondo with the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance said she believes the new owners have a progressive agenda and will stifle conservative voices now on the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

SYLVIA IRIONDO: We will resist any attempt to censor the voices of this community that are represented by these radio stations.

ALLEN: Although Democrats had been making inroads in recent years, Miami's Cuban American community has doubled down on its support for Republicans with the election of Donald Trump. Radio Mambi and other Spanish-language stations have been key in helping Republican candidates reach Cuban American voters. Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are among the Republicans who sent a letter to the FCC asking it to scrutinize the sale. Scott said he believes the deal is about politics, an effort by activists to undercut Republicans, including Rubio, who's up for reelection in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICK SCOTT: This is not a business transaction. It's a transaction to try to make sure Marco doesn't win his race and the congressmen and congresswomen here at Miami don't win their races.

ALLEN: Latino Media Network's founders have worked for Democratic organizations, one in the Obama White House. They didn't make themselves available for an interview. In a statement, they say they are committed to freedom of expression and have asked the leading talk show host at the stations to stay once the sale is approved, although one host has since resigned.

The sale comes as there are rising concerns about the growth of disinformation in Spanish-language media. Earlier this year, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell testified at a congressional hearing on the topic. She's a former Democratic member of Congress from Miami who lost her seat two years ago. She says falsehoods spread on talk radio played a role in that upset.

DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL: When people are only listening to one source of information repeatedly, they start believing the lies that they're hearing. I think it absolutely influenced the outcome not only of my election but of other elections as well.

ALLEN: Mucarsel-Powell isn't involved with the Latino Media Network, but she believes the sale may begin to counter the spread of disinformation on Spanish-language talk radio that, amplified by social media, has led to a radicalization of politics.

MUCARSEL-POWELL: And when you hear blatant lies about coronavirus, about vaccines, not only the hosts but also the coordinated callers who go on rants on making sure that people buy their ammunition and get their guns and are ready to fight against the government.

ALLEN: If the FCC approves the sale of the Miami stations and the 16 others across the nation, Latino Media Network says the deal will be finalized next year.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.