News Column

NAACP May Boycott TV Networks, Seek Diversity Rules

Jan 26 2001 11:41AM

LAS VEGAS, January 24 - The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it may boycott one of the major U.S. television networks and its advertisers to protest a lack of racial diversity on the air and within corporate ranks.

The NAACP is weighing three options, President Kweisi Mfume said. In addition to a boycott, it may ask the U.S. government to limit network ownership of TV shows. A third option would be to seek regulations requiring networks to devote some programming each week to non-white audiences.

``It appears increasingly likely that the NAACP will soon vote to employ a massive, targeted and sustained economic boycott of one of the four major networks and their advertisers,'' Mfume said yesterday at the National Association of TV Program Executives convention in Las Vegas.

Mfume's comments come about a year after the networks signed agreements with the NAACP and other groups pledging to work to increase diversity in programming and among senior executives, producers and in other areas. Those agreements were made after Mfume threatened a similar boycott.

The consolidation in the media industry after ownership rules were relaxed in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 spawned several huge media conglomerates that have created obstacles to minorities and women trying to get into the business, Mfume said.

The networks have moved too slowly to provide opportunities for minorities, Mfume said. The NAACP may choose one or all three of the options he described to make them move faster, Mfume said.

Dwindling minority participation in the industry has resulted in negative and insulting stereotypes of blacks, Latinos, Asians and American Indians, Mfume said.

Issue of Importance

Three of the four major networks -- General Electric Co.'s NBC, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and News Corp.'s Fox -- weren't immediately available for comment.

Viacom Inc.'s CBS said it hasn't heard from the NAACP about a possible boycott.

``The issue of diversity continues to be extremely important to us, and we continue to strive to improve our performance in that regard both on-screen and behind the scenes,'' CBS spokesman Gil Schwartz said.

A federal appeals court last week struck down Federal Communications Commission rules intended to encourage recruitment of women and minorities by television, radio, and cable-TV companies. The rules required broadcasters to make job listings available to qualified applicants, including women and minorities, through job fairs, scholarship programs and other forums. Companies that instead opted to set up their own outreach programs had to report the race and sex of job candidates.

Recent reports by the FCC and U.S. Department of Commerce found there had been little progress in increasing minority ownership of radio and TV stations.

The possibility of petitioning the FCC or Congress about network ownership of programs is related to the FCC's so-called Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, commonly known in the industry as ``Fin-Syn'' for short.

Fin-Syn

The rules, scrapped in 1995, prohibited networks from owning a financial interest in the programs they aired. Only studios and production companies that created the programs could participate in the syndication market, where reruns of prime-time TV programs are sold to TV stations, cable channels or other outlets.

Over the past decade, that market has become increasingly profitable as repeats of hit programs such as ``The Cosby Show,'' ``Seinfeld'' and ``ER'' have generated huge profits.

A limit on networks' ownership would allow more minority- owned and -developed programming to be telecast, Mfume said.

A federal rule that would require networks to carry some programming hours for non-white viewers could be modeled on the Children's Programming Act, which requires broadcasters to provide three hours a week of educational programming, Mfume said.

The NAACP hopes that newly appointed FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, will quickly state his position on the issue of minority ownership, Mfume said. Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, succeed William Kennard, a Democrat.



Source: Bloomberg


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