A personnel shake-up last week at KVEA-TV Channel 52 in Los Angeles brought out about 30 angry protesters on Monday. They accused station management of insensitivity to the area's Mexican and Mexican-American communities.
Chief among the demands made by two Mexican political and labor organizations was a reinstatement of Bob Navarro, former Mexican-American news director of Los Angeles' No. 2 Spanish-language station. Navarro was among three news staffers who left their jobs last week.
"This demonstrates a great lack of respect for our community (Mexican and Mexican-Americans)," said Soledad Alatorre, spokeswoman for the Hermandad Nacional Mexicana (National Mexican Brotherhood), a community group that provides support to undocumented Mexican and Latino workers. "It's as if they (station management) are saying to our people that we are unqualified and we will never to amount to anything.
"We have improved ourselves as a community, but when we least realize it, they throw our people out," Alatorre said.
He said neither the Hermandad or the Mexican-American Political Assn., whose members were also among the protesters, are demanding that only Mexican and Mexican/Americans be hired at the Glendale-based station.
He said, however, that the recent firing of Navarro and the resignation in February of former general manager Frank Cruz, also a Mexican-American, has left the vast majority of the Mexican viewers without any representation in senior management.
Raul Ruiz, a Chicano Studies professor at Cal State Northridge, also criticized KVEA for airing programs that do not respond to its predominantly Mexican-American and Central American audience.
"The station airs translation in Samuri movies and other programs produced in Miami," said Ruiz. "That would be OK for the Cuban community in Miami, but they aren't taking into consideration the folks that support them here in Los Angeles."
Ruiz also criticized the station for not investing enough resources and personnel in news gathering. He said KVEA often declines to cover stories on weekends or late at night because it does not have the staff to cover the stories.
Although KVEA Vice President and General Manager Steve Levin declined to comment, Roxanna Brightwell, spokeswoman for KVEA's parent Telemundo network in New York, acknowledged the station's lack of communication with the Mexican and Mexican-American communities.
"We had to improve our news," Brightwell, who is Mexican-American, said of Navarro's departure. "We want to hire the most qualified people for the job. We hire people regardless of there nationality. It would be against the law if he (Levin) asked prospective hires, 'Are you Mexican?' "
She said Telemundo stands behind the firing of Navarro.
She added that the person Levin hired to replace Navarro is Cuban: "(Roberto Soto) is Hispanic. If people are eager and good, we give them the opportunity."
Ruiz said Navarro had proved his ability with 20 years experience in news.
But neither Ruiz nor Navarro placed all the blame on KVEA.
They said a recent petition signed by more than half the employees at KMEX-TV, Channel 34, Los Angeles' No. 1 Spanish-language station, indicates that the Mexican and Mexican-American communities are becoming increasingly impatient with what they consider top management's disregard of their needs and interests in programming, staffing and community relations.
Reporter Pam Lopez-Johnson also contributed to this story.