For the second time in two weeks, KVEA Channel 52 found itself beset on Wednesday by 30 angry demonstrators outside its Glendale offices protesting the Spanish-language station's alleged insensitivity to its majority audience of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
This time, however, the demonstrators attempted to raise the stakes by demanding the ouster of Stephen J. Levin, KVEA's vice president and general manager. They accused him of failing to meet with them to discuss recent news department personnel changes--including the departure of Mexican-American news director Bob Navarro--that they say have eliminated Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from KVEA senior management.
"Channel 52 owes an explanation to our community," said Antonio Rodriguez, director of the Latino Community Justice Center, one of about a dozen local political, labor and community organizations represented in the picketing outside Los Angeles' No. 2 Spanish-language station.
"How is it they can say there are no qualified Mexicans to run the station when it was Mexican administrators who got this station off the ground?" Rodriguez asked. "That's an assault to our dignity. This is especially bad when you have a company that benefits directly from the Mexican community."
Station officials said that Levin was not available for comment, and representatives of KVEA's parent Telemundo network in New York were also unavailable.
KVEA's critics claim that Navarro's dismissal was the last straw in a long-simmering dissatisfaction with the station. The protesters criticized KVEA's programming practices, Levin's alleged inability to speak Spanish and Telemundo's failure to retain and promote Mexicans and Mexican-Americans such as KVEA's former general manager Frank Cruz, who resigned in February.
"It seems very unfair that none of our people are in management when you have a station which is broadcasting to an audience that is over 90% Mexican," said protest organizer Raul Ruiz, a Chicano studies professor at Cal State Northridge. (Recent marketing studies indicate that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans make up 80% to 85% of the Latino population in Los Angeles.)
Ruiz also wondered how a general manager could run a station without having a strong command of Spanish or broad understanding of Mexican and Latino cultural and social realities.
Levin, in a previous interview, insisted that he did have a working knowledge of Spanish that permitted him to make qualitative judgments about station programming.
And Telemundo officials have previously defended Levin's efforts to restructure KVEA's news department, arguing that improvements were needed after a recent ratings decline. These officials have also suggested that it would be discriminatory to insist that KVEA's news director or other senior managers be selected on the basis of their national origin.
But Ruiz argued that this assertion does not stand up in Los Angeles, where the Spanish-speaking population is overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican-American.
"I know some people have tried to twist our concerns into reverse racism," he said. "That's nonsense. It's not being racist to ask that some, not all, of our people be hired to these positions. In fact, it's equally racist to imply that all Hispanics are the same. It's like saying all Europeans are the same."
Wednesday's picketing was the latest development in a controversy that erupted last month at KVEA's rival station, KMEX Channel 34, when more than half the station's employees signed a petition expressing fears that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans faced losing key programming and management jobs at the station and its parent Univision network.
But the controversy changed channels last month after the departure of three KVEA news employees, including Navarro, a veteran Mexican-American reporter who claimed that he was fired after seven months as news director.
Community leaders such as Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, rose to Navarro's defense and chastised KVEA's parent network, Telemundo. About 30 university students and community organizers picketed outside KVEA on June 5.
KVEA also came under fire from the National Hispanic Media Coalition, an umbrella organization for several national and local Latino organizations, which fired off a letter to Telemundo's corporate headquarters in New York.
Among other things, the coalition claimed that employment documents in KVEA's public file show only token support of Latino community organizations. Moreover, the letter said that the network has only one Latino on its board of directors and no Latino directors on the board of Reliance Capital Group, the corporate holding company that controls the network and its six owned-and-operated stations, including KVEA.
"It is extremely troubling to the coalition," the letter said, "that a TV station as profitable as KVEA would give so little in return to the community from which it reaps its profits."
Telemundo officials offered earlier this week to meet with the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the community groups represented by Ruiz. But no date has been set.