Puerto Rican TV Station Will Not Cancel Controversial Show

PHOTO: The president of WAPA TV says the controversial puppet, La Comay, wont be taken off the airways.

A life-sized she-puppet continues to stir controversy in Puerto Rico for statements she made two weeks ago on the island's highest-rated show, SuperXclusivo. And after suggesting to The New York Times on Monday that La Comay's days may be numbered, José E. Ramos, the president of WAPA TV, which airs the show, says the puppet is here stay.

"No, WAPA is not considering canceling SuperXclusivo," Ramos told ABC/Univision. "I told The New York Times that, naturally, we do think about both the benefits and consequences of the program and we take the accusations leveled against the show very seriously."

However, Ramos says that the puppet, which is voiced by a "Kobbo" Santarroso, will only continue her reign as queen of Puerto Rican news and gossip if she makes a few adjustments.

"We will be implementing changes in oversight of the show that will ensure that offensive or inappropriate language is not used," he said. The network also says it will launch an anti-violence campaign to help police solve unsolved crimes on the island.

A movement to boycott the show grew quickly after the puppet made controversial comments regarding the brutal murder of 32-year-old José Enrique Gómez Saladín earlier this month. The boycott's Facebook page gained more than 73,000 Facebook fans in about a dozen days, and the group has pressured nearly 40 companies, including AT&T, Walmart, Ford, Coca-Cola, and Chevrolet, to cut ties with the show or pull their advertising.

After Ramos called the advertisers' decision to pull ad time "emotional" almost two weeks ago in an interview with Metro, dozens more advertisers have followed suit. Ramos' tone has since changed.

"We respect the decision by some advertisers to suspend advertising on the show; however, the majority of the public continues to support this show, as evidenced by our increase in ratings," he said.

The show's boycotters say their movement has caused the show to drop a few points in its Nielsen ratings over the past weeks, despite WAPA's claims that they have been better than ever. A WAPA spokesperson said that the recent drop in the last few days is because the network has been playing reruns since December 12th, and not because of the boycott. The network's spokesperson also said that SuperXclusivo has remained the most popular show on television for households throughout the boycott.

Nonetheless, Ramos wants to apologize to those offended by La Comay's insinuation that Gomez's murder may have been partially his own fault for being present in an area known for prostitution.

"We sincerely regret if comments made on the show are ever taken out of context or misinterpreted to be deliberately hurtful," he told ABC/Univision. Earlier this month, La Comay also offered her own apology, saying that she was simply repeating a story which originated in other news outlets.

But, the shows' critics say this just isn't enough. Pedro Julio Serrano, a spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force says that "sorry if we offended you" isn't a "real apology."

"It's like a half-apology, it says, if someone felt offended then we apologize," Serrano said. "That's not accepting responsibility for more than 15 years of defamation, of xenophobic, homophobic, and racist attacks that have come from their show."

While the comments regarding the brutal murder of 32-year-old José Enrique Gómez Saladín set off the controversy, critics say that this latest episode was just the final straw. Categorized as an entertainment show by WAPA, SuperXclusivo often pokes fun at public figures and puts its own spin on stories in the news.

But, detractors say the show often crosses a line. In her controversial history, La Comay has repeatedly used the derogatory Spanish slang word "pato" to refer to gay people, she has tried to "out" prominent figures she thinks are gay, she has poked fun at a local newscaster for her weight (asking if she had swallowed a basketball), and she has called a black person a "monkey," as The Huffington Post reported on Monday. When challenged for her statements, La Comay has frequently responded that she is joking around. And in rare instances, La Comay has apologized for offending members of her audience.

However, Serrano says such apologies only come when the station's financial interests are threatened and that little changes on the show after they say sorry.

"[The apologies] are made to try to control the damage," Serrano said.

But as the boycott grows, and as big companies continue to pull their ad dollars, another pro- La Comay movement has grown on Facebook, with nearly 14,000 members, so far. As members of the boycott gathered outside of the WAPA on Friday evening, so too did pro-La Comay protesters, all holding printed signs that had messages of support for the show. The gathering was reportedly sponsored by a man named Jorge Claudio, who chartered buses and a professional-grade speaker system. Two planes were also hired to fly above the island with messages of solidarity. Claudio denied allegations that he had paid protesters, many of whom were teenagers, to show support for the show, according to a report by Primera Hora.

Serrano suggested that WAPA was either directly or indirectly involved in organizing the event, due to the scale of Friday's arrangements. But the network adamantly denies these claims, maintaining that they are unaffiliated with Claudio.

"WAPA is very grateful for the support though," their spokesperson wrote in an email.

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