04 November 2011

Protesters condemn cancellation of University of Puerto Rico daily news program


By Rafael R. Díaz Torres
Puerto Rico Daily Sun

Outraged professors, employees, students and former reporters of the cancelled Hoy en Las Noticias morning news program at Radio Universidad gathered Tuesday outside the radio station in the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico to condemn the elimination of the more than two-decade-old newscast and demand its return.

Radio announcer and journalist Roberto Morales Cabán said the end of Hoy en Las Noticias (Today in The News), announced on Friday, is in response to censorship by the university administration, which he noted had tried to suppress station news coverage of recent student strikes on three occasions.

He said Contrapunto, the new investigative news program proposed by UPR School of Communications Director Eliseo Colón, Radio Universidad General Manager Yolanda Zabala and journalist professor Nora Soto to replace the radio newscast, will be a prerecorded program airing once a week and will not compensate for Hoy en Las Noticias’ social contribution as an hour-long live show airing from Monday to Friday.

Colón announced Friday that personnel from Hoy en Las Noticias will be transferred to Contrapunto, which is scheduled to air in January.

“There is not the least doubt that this is censorship because they are preempting and limiting the space journalism students use for their practice,” Morales said. “It’s not the same having a [directly transmitted] daily program than one that is prerecorded and controlled.”

Puerto Rican Journalism Students Association President Laura Quintero regretted the elimination of one of the most important workshops for members of the organization to acquire their first professional experience.

“Radio Universidad, as well as Diálogo, has been, for many years, a laboratory that has allowed students to grow in the journalism field,” she said.

Journalism professor Norma Valle, one of the creators of Hoy en Las Noticias in 1988, highlighted the journalistic excellence of its reporters, including the work of journalist Natalia Ramos Malavé, who was nominated to the prize of best explanatory news report from the Puerto Rico Overseas Press Club.

Puerto Rico Journalism Association President Rafael Lenín López sent a letter to Colón expressing dismay over the cancelation of the newscast, calling it an “indispensable workshop” for the island’s journalists.

“Given that [the newscast] is so dear to our members and their audience and because public radio processes, more than at any other place, should be public and transparent, we demand an explanation and justification for Hoy en Las Noticias,” López says in the letter.

In a letter sent to López, Colón denied that censorship was behind the cancelation of the newscast, saying the move was made to increase the station’s audience. He said that after a “careful and thoughtful analysis,” the station decided to develop a weekly one-hour program that will carry out “exhaustive news reports and in-depth interviews.”

“This project is being done with a view to the future expansion of Radio Universidad’s News Department, and takes into account... the continuous development of journalism skills and knowledge,” he wrote, saying the news department was reorganized for the purpose of developing in-depth reports.

Colón said Soto returned to her teaching post at the School of Communications to integrate students to the new radio program. During the next two months, he said, reporters and journalism students will participate in workshops on investigative journalism given by experts in the field, including journalist and attorney Oscar Serrano, cofounder of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism at Inter American University.

“The new program will be placed at an hour when the ratings show that it would have the best opportunities to reenforce and expand its audience, which in past years has shown a dramatic decrease,” Colón wrote, adding that Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding for the station depends on the station improving its community reach and base of donors.

Morales said, however, that public stations are not measured by audiences. His allegations are consistent with broadcast radio principles established by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in the 1940s, reserving the 88 to 92 megahertz band for public and non-commercial stations offering content aiming for the common good.

“Still, the information I have confirms that the news show is among the first,” said Morales, who also questioned the use of Arbitron ratings, developed for commercial radio but not for public radio stations such as Radio Universidad.