News Column

TV Networks Make Slow Progress towards Diversity

Nov 2 2000 9:16AM

By Tim Dougherty

November 2000 - Hispanic activists welcomed the Fox network's recent appointment of a vice-president to oversee diversity efforts and also the news that ABC had finally agreed to create such a position. Unless the nation's television networks soon take more significant steps to diversify their programming and business operations, however, broadcast and advertiser boycotts remain a possibility, they warn.

In August, Fox announced the appointment of Mitsy Wilson to the newly created position of senior vice-president of diversity development. Ms. Wilson, who was the Times-Mirror Co.'s top diversity executive for the last five years, is to report to Fox entertainment president Gail Berman.

In a prepared statement, Ms. Wilson said, "The ability to now direct Fox's professional and cultural reach toward such an important issue is something I approach with real passion. When you begin to consider the strength of the Fox Network and the volume of high-quality work being done within these studios, the opportunities for real progress are tremendously exciting."

In a related development, ABC has dropped its opposition to creating the position of vice-president of diversity. In the past, the network asserted that it already employed a senior-level executive who oversaw diversity initiatives. At press time, the network was on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding with the Coalition for Diversity on Television. Earlier this year, Fox, CBS, and NBC signed similar agreements, outlining specific steps and timetables for increasing minority representation on-screen and off, including the appointment of a vice-president of diversity at each network.

Nevertheless, the Hispanic members of the Coalition for Diversity on Television which includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, and American Indians in Film and Television, as well as the National Latino Media Council say they are losing patience with the slow rate of progress.

In September, NBC informed the coalition that the number of Hispanic actors in network programming actually dropped slightly compared to last year. And the network has yet to hire any new Hispanic writers.

National Hispanic Media Coalition chairman Alex Nogales says that NBC has done well in terms of increasing Hispanic participation in network business operations, but it's fallen well short of expectations in employing Hispanic actors, writers, producers, and directors.

"This whole thing is about results. This is not open-ended. The networks don't have 10 years to get two Mexicans on the air. We expect progress from one year to the next in terms of the creative arena," he says. "If I sound as if I'm being critical, it's because I don't see the progress that we expected."

Earlier this year, Mr. Nogales and National Latino Media Council chairman Esteban Torres said they would explore advertiser and programming boycotts in the event that the networks failed to hire more Hispanics, as they had promised. Mr. Nogales now says those options may be closer to becoming realities.

"We are very concerned and expect immediate progress," he says.

Source: Hispanic Business magazine

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