The nation's largest Spanish-language broadcaster has agreed to a record $24 million fine for failing to meet government rules for educational children's programming, a Federal Communications Commission official said Saturday (Feb. 24).

The penalty is part of a consent decree that would pave the way for Univision Communications Inc. to complete its $12.3 billion sale to private investors.

The decree awaits approval by a majority of the agency's five commissioners. The chairman, Kevin J. Martin, told The New York Times he supported it.

"I generally believe that consumers benefit from less regulation, not more," he said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "However, I take broadcasters' responsibilities to serve the public very seriously, especially regarding their children's programming obligations."

The fine is part of a deal that would transfer Univision's broadcast licenses to the investors. A vote could come at any time, said the agency official who confirmed the fine, which Martin first disclosed to the newspaper. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the commission has yet to vote.

Messages left at Univision's New York and Miami offices were not immediately returned Saturday.

The previous record fine was $9 million, against the telecommunications company Qwest Communications International Inc. in 2004. The penalty was for failing to disclose business relationships with local competitors.

The penalty involves charges that 24 Univision stations between 2004 and early 2006 circumvented guidelines on airing educational children's programs by running soap operas aimed mainly at adults.

Under a 1996 law, television broadcasters are required to air at least three hours a week of educational shows for children.

Univision had maintained that it met those requirements by broadcasting several telenovelas, or soap operas. They included "Complices al Rescate," which followed 11-year-old identical twin girls who switched identities after finding out they had been separated at birth and starred Mexican teen pop star Belinda. The program's 2002 soundtrack also featured the singer, who appeared in Disney Channel's 'Cheetah Girls 2' last summer and released an album, 'Utopia,' on EMI Televisa in October.

"A significant purpose and key educational objective of this program is to illustrate how friendship, love and kindness can help overcome life's adversities," the network's lawyers said in court papers.

Martin said the FCC was unconvinced. Critics said the show featured adult plots and complex themes that were ill-suited for young children.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.