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Olmos-Led Group to Help Develop Latino TV Projects

Television: New organization replaces financially troubled center in the short term to distribute money from the Corp. for Public Broadcasting.

November 18, 1998|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Corp. for Public Broadcasting announced Tuesday that a new transition organization led by actor-director Edward James Olmos will soon begin developing Latino-oriented programming for public television, replacing the financially troubled National Latino Communications Center, which was shut down earlier this year.

CPB President Robert T. Coonrod said the new group, the Latino Public Broadcasting Project, would solicit proposals and distribute grants to producers over the next year. CPB, which distributes congressional appropriations for public radio and television, has set aside a total of $1.3 million for Latino programming in the fiscal years 1998 and 1999.

"We anticipate that we can get the money into the hands of Latino producers in very short order," Coonrod said.

He said that the Olmos-led group would address a key priority of the Washington-based corporation, which is to provide programs that reflect the country's diversity. But he characterized the interim organization as a temporary solution to address long-range goals.

"We really need to look at a long-term approach for this situation over the next year," said Coonrod. "We want to set up an ongoing Latino funding organization, and will be hosting a series of community forums with producers and public-television programmers in several cities starting next month. We want to make sure this funding continues to flow."

CPB, the largest single source of funding for public television and radio program development and production, withheld more than $1 million in funding from the National Latino Communications Center last March after accusations by a former employee of improper management and inappropriate expenditures made by the 23-year-old center.

Although officials at the consortium denied any wrongdoing, the center was forced to shut its doors last March after CPB announced that it was investigating financial discrepancies in the organization.

Coonrod said there were still a lot of "unanswered questions" about the NLCC, and that CPB was waiting for results from an audit being conducted by the Los Angeles-based group before pursuing further action. "There are a lot of dollars that can't be accounted for," he said. "We don't feel that, at this point, we could continue funding them."

The NLCC had co-produced the acclaimed 1996 documentary "Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement" and had been in the midst of developing a documentary on singer Maria Felix and a Christmas show, "Feliz Navidad," with musician Nati Cano, when it ceased operations.

Executives for the NLCC could not be reached for comment.

Olmos said that he hoped the new organization would be a valuable if short-lived resource for producers seeking to realize their creative visions.

"We really want to keep the pipeline open," Olmos said in an interview. "I want to talk with broadcasters and producers about the country to boost diversity. We're working toward the common good in the Latino community."

He said he also wanted to try to increase funding for future development of Latino projects.

"I hope to motivate and do what I can to get more money," said Olmos. "It's unfair that it should be what it is. It should be five times what it is."

Olmos added that he was interested in documentaries as well as dramatic productions, "even science-fiction and comedy. It would be great to be able to fund this wide range."

The Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, which has served as grants manager for Olmos' public-interest projects since 1992, will serve as the fiscal agent for the Latino Public Broadcasting Project.

In addition to the Latino Public Broadcasting Project, CPB will also support four other minority consortia: the National Asian-American Telecommunications Assn., Native American Public Television, the National Black Programming Consortium and Pacific Islanders in Communications.

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