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News programme loses top time slot, managers fear interference from Valle del Cauca governor

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 23 February 2010, the public TV channel Telepacífico announced its news broadcasting schedule for the next 7 years. The "Occinoticias" programme, which up to now has not been known for news programming, was given the top slot of 1:00 p.m., displacing the "90 Minutos" programme which previously held that spot for 20 years.

"90 Minutos" will now be broadcast at 10:30 p.m., a less popular time slot. The programme's managers believe that the decision is linked to their criticisms of the Valle del Cauca Administration. Governor Juan Carlos Abadía is the head of Telepacífico's board of directors.

"90 Minutos" director Luz Adriana Betancourt expressed concern to FLIP about some parts of the allocation process. For example, while news programmes had to demonstrate regional coverage, "Occinoticias" was rated as equal to "90 Minutos" in this area, even though "90 Minutos" has local correspondents, while "Occinoticias" does not.

Moreover, the same week that the proposals were submitted, Telepacífico manager Patricia López and the channel's president of the board, Víctor Manuel Salcedo, resigned. Salcedo is currently the press secretary for the Valle del Cauca Administration.

Betancourt says she suspects that "90 Minutos" may have been targeted because of its editorial line which has sometimes irked Governor Abadía since he came to power. She did note, however, that there is no evidence of any direct intervention from the Governor's Office.

Abadía stressed that the allocation process was a transparent one. "If I wanted to veto '90 Minutos', they wouldn't have been awarded a slot in 2008," the governor told W Radio.

Telepacífico general manager Lorena Mendoza told FLIP that the criteria were clearly outlined and that "Occinoticias" has some good experience to bring to the table. She added that López stepped down because of health reasons and not because of any pressure.

On 23 February, after a meeting of directors and editors of Colombian media in Bogotá, participants issued a statement expressing their concern over how the process was handled at Telepacífico.

"90 Minutos" plans to challenge the decision and the final decision will be announced on 1 March.

FLIP called on the Public Prosecutor's Office, the National Television Commision and the Auditor General's Office to oversee the allocation process at Telepacífico, to ensure that it is carried out in accordance with the law and freedom of expression is upheld.

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