WIPR still standing thanks to collaborative project with Education Dept.
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
With island government funding for the Puerto Rico Corporation for Public Broadcasting (known as WIPR by its Federal Communications Commission call sign) cut off in March because the Financial Oversight and Management Board refused to allocate funds for its operation, WIPR President Eric G. Delgado Santiago said Thursday that, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the island Education Department’s (DE) TV project “En Casa Aprendo” has been the only independent income source that has allowed WIPR to keep its doors open.
As for continuing to make payroll, Delgado Santiago told the Star that WIPR has been working with other independent sources of income such as sales of sponsorships, production services, and proposals with other public broadcasting corporations, for which they had to increase their prices; however, he said the revenue from these sources could only provide for up to one month of operations.
Meanwhile, he said the only “big” contract that has helped them remain upright for a longer period of time has been the collaborative project with the DE.
“Our collaboration with the DE has been the only reliable source of income. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we are going to start another cycle of ‘school camp’ coming soon to give support to the DE after school hours end. We’ll be starting with Monday to Friday programs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. with reviews and other materials that were covered in students’ online courses,” Delgado Santiago said. “Teleducation, as we named it, has gained back importance in different parts of the world; literally, there are places that have not bet on internet projects, but have done so on television projects, as geographical circumstances in bigger countries make it difficult to distribute internet access. So we’re working swiftly on preparing the following curriculums for the children, and with that, for now, we can keep operating.”
As for the next restructuring plan, which the Star reported was expected to be announced in the third week of June, Delgado Santiago said it hasn’t been possible as House Bill (HB) 2564, by which the Legislature must review the plan to transform the corporation into a non-profit organization, has not been up for examination yet. The plan is still under negotiation as cost quotations have yet to be confirmed by other mainland and local corporations. However, the WIPR president said it was neither his nor Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced’s intention to turn the public corporation into a nonprofit as it was greenlit by Vázquez herself to continue operating on independent income.
“We’re still working within local terms wherein Governor Wanda Vázquez said: ‘No, no, WIPR is not for sale.’ She gave me joy when I heard that as she told me to keep working through independent income so WIPR keeps operating, and not turn it into a non-profit organization,” Delgado Santiago said. “I said it was going to be the same job even if we were to become a non-profit organization, which was to make the Corporation self-sufficient, so let’s go to work with that.”
Regarding funding for the Radio Drama Workshop and the Lucy Boscana Television Drama Program, Delgado Santiago said he was concerned for their funding as they were not included in HB 2564 because both are programs approved by independent laws.
“The only way for these programs to be saved, even if WIPR were to be privatized, was to amend the laws that created these workshops so as to include these programs in the restructuring,” he said. “As for funding, instead of providing their funds in one payment, it was put under remittance to be paid every month, which makes it challenging to commit to any productions.”
As for local WIPR productions, Delgado Santiago said he wanted to “democratize” the program schedule, as he believed that even though earlier productions have contributed to Puerto Rico’s culture, he felt that such programming was not providing a public service because it was not engaging enough for islanders due to the content being too “upscale.” Still, he insisted that topics such as music, arts and literature should never be left out on the public channel.
“Sometimes, I would tune in to a performance of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, and instead of having a host explaining the next composition and how it was made to the audience, there was an upscale conversation that only musicians would understand. How are you going to make the viewers fall in love with classical music if you don’t find more simple and satisfying ways to engage with them?” he said. “Same goes for a book, why have an upscale and deep conversation where you meet the author of the book, when you can find ways to make people fall in love with literature, find ways to make them log off the internet and enjoy a good book? It’s not that we should ever abandon literature or music, it’s more on how we present the topic.”
Delgado Santiago went on to say that another of his goals is for island youth to be better represented in WIPR productions and have outlets for them to express and discuss their concerns about Puerto Rico. He said programs such as Puerto Rico 2020, which is hosted by former Popular Democratic Party Rep. Jorge Colberg Toro, with appearances from New Progressive Party Spokesman Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rican Independent Party Spokesman Hugo Rodríguez Díaz, Citizen Victory Movement President Ana Irma Rivera Lassen and Dignity Project Spokeswoman Ada Norah Henriquez, will provide a segment where young leaders from the aforementioned parties can present their ideas to viewers.
“When we talk about democracy, we should not only think about political parties but more of something generational. We want to listen to our youth speak their concerns, as I did when I was younger,” Delgado Santiago said, noting that the social and political priorities of the island’s youth are very different from those of older citizens. “Older people care more about the Vital [government medical] Plan and health issues, but we want to listen to the youth, we want to see what points they bring to the table so not only do the viewers see them, but also the political leaders themselves, so that we might see if they [politicians and policymakers] have paid attention to their issues or not.”
As for what will happen to WIPR when the next administration arrives in early 2021, Delgado Santiago said that before the year ends, “he would love to finish the project, whether it transfers to a non-profit organization or it remains as a public corporation.”