The National Hispanic Journalists Association applauded Univision’s decision to fire host Rodner Figueroa, after he compared first lady Michelle Obama to a character from “Planet of the Apes” during a segment of “El Gordo Y La Flaca” last week.
In a statement published to NAHJ’s website on Tuesday, the organization’s President Mekahlo Medina called Figueroa’s comments “racist” and said that Univision made “the right decision” by dismissing him.
“Univision, the fifth largest network in the U.S., took a stand against racism and we are all better for it,” Medina’s statement said. “But I keep wondering, what was Figueroa thinking when those words came out of his mouth? Why was it okay for him, at that moment, to compare the First Lady of the United States or any person to an ape? And why, still today, does he think that was not racist?”
Medina said that in response to the Univision incident, NAHJ would create a task force during its national conference in Orlando this September to survey the way race is portrayed in Spanish-language media. NAHJ will use the data for training and development programs to educate journalists about how “how these perceptions shape our decision making processes.”
Medina also highlighted the lack of racial diversity within both the Spanish-language and English-language news media, saying it helps perpetuate a “hierarchy of skin color and race.”
“How many dark-skin or afro-Latino anchors do you see on Spanish language newscasts?” Medina said in the statement. “How many indigenous Latinos do you see on any newscast, English or Spanish? There isn’t a single Latino/a anchoring an 11pm English language newscast in Los Angeles, despite the market being 53% Latino and overwhelmingly English speaking or bilingual.”
The announcement of the task force on Spanish-language media comes just weeks after Media Matters, a research group that monitors what it calls “rightwing misinformation,” announced a new program to scrutinize Latino media more closely.
Figueroa was dismissed last Wednesday, immediately following his comments during a segment discussing make-up artist Paolo Ballesteros and his transformations into female celebrities.
“Mind you, you know that Michelle Obama looks like she’s part of the cast of “Planet of the Apes,” the film,” Figueroa said, when analyzing Ballesteros’ look as Michelle Obama with a side-by-side image of the real first lady.
In an apology letter addressed directly to Obama released by his talent agency Latin WE, Figueroa said his comment was directed at Ballesteros’ transformation and not the first lady herself. He also went on to reject accusations of racism, adding that he comes from a biracial family.