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KMEX Staff Nervous Over Firings

February 11, 1993|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The recent cancellation of three Univision shows and the firing of nearly 70 people has left some staffers at KMEX in Los Angeles fearful about losing their jobs, but network and station officials insist that the cancellations were simply a response to bad ratings.

"Everybody's scared to death and I do believe there are going to be more (firings)," said a KMEX staffer who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "What they did was just at the network level and now we're going to see it at the (Univision-owned) stations across the country." The staffer added that "morale is the lowest I have ever seen."

One month after taking over, the new owners of Univision announced the firings and cancellations of three U.S.-produced programs--the newsmagazines "Portada" and "Al Mediodia" and a variety show, "Charytin Internacional."

KMEX general manager Mike Martinez defended the Univision cancellations, citing the programs' low ratings in the recently established Nielsen Hispanic Television Index. He said he has no plans to cut back on local production.

All three canceled shows were produced at Univision's Miami headquarters, where 58 of 500 employees were dismissed. Univision's facility there was ringed by off-duty police officers and private guards as employees were given notices and escorted off the premises, the Miami Herald reported.

Ten of the 70 people who lost their jobs were "Al Mediodia" staffers based in Los Angeles, but Martinez said that six have been hired at KMEX.

Martinez also noted that the canceled "Portada" has been replaced on Wednesday nights by the Los-Angeles produced "El Nuevo Show de Paul Rodriguez."

His show, which had been on the network for several years, recently had been dropped from the Saturday schedule in favor of movies because of low ratings, but has been revamped from a celebrity interview format to a more comedic one.

"Paul is still the driving force on the show," Martinez said. "It's going to a more comedy-variety format and less of an Arsenio Hall format. The interview format kind of got a little slow."

Univision was sold last year by Hallmark Cards Corp. to a group headed by Los Angeles investor A. Jerrold Perenchio that includes Mexican media baron Emilio Azcarraga and Venezuelan media magnates Gustavo and Ricardo Cisneros.

When the sale was announced, about two dozen Latino groups across the country protested that the change of ownership would lead to a drastic reduction in the number of programs originating in the United States and to much more fare being imported from Latin America. Azcarraga has a near-monopoly on broadcast television in Mexico through his ownership of Televisa, the $2-billion, Mexican-based production company that is the world's largest producer and exporter of programming.

Now it appears that the predictions are coming true. Two of the three canceled shows are being replaced by Mexican programs--one a collection of soap operas, the other a comedy revue hosted by veteran Mexican comic Chespirito, which is produced at Azcarraga's Televisa Studios in Mexico City.

"It's very clear to us that Azcarraga's in charge and production's going to go off-shore, except for the daily news programs," said Esther Renteria, national chairwoman of the Los Angeles-based National Hispanic Media Coalition. "We've been concerned all along that they'd get rid of U.S. employees and replace (U.S.-produced shows with programs) from Mexico and Venezuela, which are cheaper."

Renteria's organization unsuccessfully filed a petition to deny the transfer of the Univision license and is appealing the Federal Communications Commission's approval of the sale. Another Latino group, American GI Forum, has asked the FCC to reconsider the case and is requesting a congressional hearing regarding the manner in which the transaction was handled, Renteria said.

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