BY ANDREA FIGLER At least 20 foreign-language networks next week will form an association geared to improve the advertising position and regulatory stance of international broadcasters nationwide. The Ethnic Broadcasters of America is designed “to create a forum by which we can all pool our resources,” says Elie Kawkabani, who is spearheading the move as president of Reach Media, which markets and distributes Arabic and Italian programming in the United States. Executives from networks in languages such as Indian, Arabic, Polish, French, Chinese and Japanese are expected to participate in the group’s first meeting March 20 in Los Angeles. Joining together all the networks may help win over mainstream corporate advertisers. Kawkabani estimates current participants total about 2 million “ethnic” eyeballs. If the group succeeds, that number could skyrocket, says Bob Spanski of TV Polonia. There are 9 million Polish-speaking residents in the U.S. alone, he says. And, according to the U.S. 2000 Census, almost 47 million — 17.9% of the country — speak a language other than English at home. The larger numbers will help strengthen attempts, both direct and regulatory, to get cable operators to carry these foreign-language networks where strong ethnic communities reside — sort of an “ethnic” must-carry, Spanski says. Chicago, for example, has the largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw. The National Cable & Tele-communications Association had no comment on this new group or its goals. But, as Kawkabani was quick to point out, the association should not be perceived as a union or a cartel. “It’s not going to gang up on any entity,” he says. “We want to be the sum of all our parts.” S. Venkatasubramanian, assistant VP of Indian ZEE TV USA, says that uniting ethnic broadcasters will help them — as well as advertisers — realize the power of the ethnic markets in the United States. “We could all go together as an association, as a body, and say this is the number of eyeballs we are giving you,” he says. Right now, “As advertisers, they don’t see us as one group.” Producing ads in the appropriate language for any given ethnicity is more powerful than mainstream commercials here in the United States, Kawkabani agrees. Kawkabani says that cable operators are starting to express more interest in carrying foreign-language networks to compete with satellite, specifically EchoStar Communications. EchoStar, which continues to grow its subscriber base, has long offered foreign-language programming packages. Cablevision has been adding foreign-language channels on its digital platform. “We carry a wide variety of ethnic and multicultural programming, and we expect to expand this offering in the future,” says spokesman Jim Maiella.