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COMMENTARY : L.A. Spanish TV Has Much to Do to Better Serve Community

<i> Prieto Zartha, originally from Colombia, is a Los Angeles free</i> -<i> lance writer</i>

Last April 20, television celebrated its 50th birthday. Coinciding with this anniversary an intense controversy with national ramifications broke out over Los Angeles Spanish-language television.

The controversy began when a group of employees of Channel 34, owned by the Univision network, presented a petition to the new station manager, Emilio Nicolas Jr., asking that the vacant position of news director be filled with an individual “who reflected the interests, experience and culture of Los Angeles.” In other words, that the person had to be Mexican. This petition generated a series of articles in which it was contended that Spanish-language television in the United States was becoming “Cubanized” and that the interests of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were being ignored.

To make matters worse, Channel 52, owned by Telemundo network, replaced its news director, Bob Navarro, a Mexican-American, with Roberto Soto, a Cuban.

This chain of events gave rise to the justified demand that there be a larger Mexican and Mexican-American representation on Spanish-language TV. After all, 60% of the 20 million Hispanics in the United States are of Mexican origin, and in Los Angeles they constitute 80% of the 3.5 million Latinos.

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At the same time, some activists took advantage of the situation to sow seeds of discord in the garden of xenophobia, creating an animosity against Cubans.

But rather than foment discord among Latinos, the events should serve to impel Spanish-language TV to better serve its community and at the same time to ensure the success of the medium.

In this process it is necessary to open that Pandora’s box, which reveals many aspects of Spanish-language TV known within the industry but never publicized as much as during the last few months:

Hispanics do not own Spanish-language television in the United States.

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The lack of Latino representation in the parent corporations of networks is glaring. Neither Hallmark Card Inc., owner of Univision, nor Reliance Capital Group, owner of Telemundo, have Hispanics on their board of directors.

There are too few Spanish-language programs produced in the United States. Most of the shows are imported from Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Argentina.

A disparity exists between Miami and Los Angeles in the production of nationally broadcast Spanish-language programs. More programs are produced in Florida.

Television’s revenues are not reflected in the number of community service programs.

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Opportunities for independent producers are still minimal, and legal actions may be required to secure their participation.

Spanish-language television is handicapped because advertising budgets allocated to this medium do not reflect the growth of the Latino population.

Audience-rating systems on which stations base their advertising rates do not accurately measure the size of the viewing audience.

The problems that plague Spanish-language TV nationally are clearly manifested in Los Angeles. But, before this controversy, neither the newspapers nor the National Hispanic Media Coalition closely examined the performance of the local stations:

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There had been no discussion of the local stations’ responsibility in relegating the city to a second-class status within the country’s Spanish-language television. This occurred because of the stations’ meager local programming.

There had been no mention of the lack of local public affairs programming.

There had been no criticism of the low technical and reporting standards of the local newscasts.

There had been no scrutiny of the professional training and qualifications of the news staff.

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It had not been made public that for many years the city was covered by Channel 34 with only three news crews.

There had been no mention of the fact that events occurring at night were ignored.

There had been no criticism that no local newscast exists, even today, during the weekend.

Seldom had there been mention of the severe misuse of the Spanish language in the newscasts.

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It had never been noted that, only one decade before the year 2000, the word Macintosh is still unknown in the Spanish-language TV newsroom and that reporters and writers still transcribe their notes on typewriters.

The most positive aspect of the TV controversy is that it has opened the way to bringing public awareness to points like those above, and solutions to the problems can be sought.

The only unfortunate aspect of the controversy is that it may create a division between the different Latino groups, that individuals may be classified according to their nationality and their progress hindered.

On this subject, Times reader Mercy Mendez stated in a letter something that makes a lot of sense: “As a Chicana it is inconceivable to me, after all the discrimination that we have suffered, that some Latinos might wish to deny a share of the American Dream to newer Hispanic minorities. . . . Hard work, unity and a generosity of spirit are commendable; anything else makes us no better than those who discriminate against us.”

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