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Status of KCBS’ Toyota Draws Groups’ Fire : Television: Advocacy organizations are concerned about the anchor’s removal from the 4 p.m. newscast. The general manager of the station says it’s trying different teams.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

KCBS-TV Channel 2 has been targeted for protest by Asian American advocacy groups that are upset about what they call the recent demotion of veteran anchor Tritia Toyota and the lack of coverage by the station of Asian American issues.

Leaders of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center have written letters and met with KCBS management expressing their concerns over news coverage and the future of Toyota, who was removed last week from the 4 p.m. anchor lineup.

“There is certainly a perception that there is not a connection between KCBS and the Asian American community,” said Daniel Mayeda, legal counsel for the Media Action Network.

Toyota, who remains an anchor on the station’s noon newscast, said she is not pleased with her current situation.

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“This was not my choice,” Toyota said in an interview. “Nobody is happy when they’re taken off the air. I would like to be on the air more, but that’s not what they had in mind. People ask me all the time why they don’t see me more. I’m not happy with it, but management reserves the right to make the decisions it wants to make.”

Toyota, who said she still has a large amount of time remaining on her contract, added that she was not aware of or connected with any protests regarding her status.

KCBS General Manager William Applegate denied Wednesday that Toyota had been demoted and said that she may soon return to the 4 p.m. newscast as an anchor. He maintained that KCBS covers the Asian American community as aggressively and comprehensively as other communities and that criticism of the station’s coverage seemed linked to concerns over Toyota.

“We were never approached with concerns about our coverage by any Asian American organization” until the complaints about Toyota, Applegate said. “Tritia continues to be one of our high-profile performers. They have no reason to be concerned.”

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Still, leaders of the Media Action Network and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center said they were frustrated about the reduced visibility of Toyota, a well-known local news figure. She has been in anchor chairs for 20 years, serving 10 years each at KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KCBS. Wendy Tokuda of KNBC is the only other local Asian American weekday anchor.

In addition, Toyota scored a major coup last year when she landed an exclusive interview with Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, the judge in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The interview earned major ratings during the important November sweeps for the station, which has been struggling in third place for many years.

Toyota is regarded by many as a role model and active participant in the Asian American community.

But she has gradually been moved out of the prominent anchor rotation in recent years. She was assigned last year to co-anchor newscasts at noon and 4 p.m., then last week was taken off the 4 p.m. program and assigned to be a reporter in the afternoons.

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Stewart Kwoh, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, said he had received several calls in the past weeks from KCBS viewers who were puzzled about why they were seeing less of Toyota.

“Many people watch the station just because of Tritia,” Kwoh said. “They are concerned not only about her, but what she represents. They feel that if her role is diminished and there were no one with the knowledge to replace her, then they will be ignored.”

Mayeda added: “We understand that this is a business decision. But we hope they do not overlook the fact that Tritia is one of the veteran local newscasters who can go out in the community and find the appropriate people to speak to on the issues.”

The Asian American representatives said they felt Toyota was being made a scapegoat for the low ratings at Channel 2. Some industry sources believe KCBS’ 4 p.m. problems stem in part from its weak lead-in: the new magazine series “Day & Date,” which has had trouble getting off the ground at 3 p.m. this fall against “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on KABC-TV Channel 7 and “Sally Jessy Raphael” on KNBC.

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Applegate said that the station is trying different configurations of anchor teams in the 4 p.m. slot and that there is not yet a permanent female anchor for that newscast.

“We’re trying to find a mix that we’re comfortable with,” he said. “That may involve Tritia; then again, it may not. But she continues and will continue as an anchor at this station.”


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