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Coalition gives ABC low grade in diversity

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The multiethnic coalition that signed diversity agreements with the broadcast networks a year and a half ago said it will begin discussions with major advertisers beginning this month, including Ford, General Motors, telephone companies, pharmaceutical giants and food industry heavyweights.
The talks are the first step to take action against the networks for not diversifying quickly enough. One option that will be discussed is encouraging advertisers not to advertise on shows that lack diversity.
“We have a lot of allies and have people on their boards,” said former congressman Esteban Torres, who is now the chairman of the multiethnic coalition.
The coalition will begin meeting this month to discuss other tactics such as boycotting shows and taking legal action against the networks. It plans to announce its course of action by July.
Last Thursday the group gave thumbs down to ABC for its lack of progress in diversity. At a press conference in Los Angeles, the coalition that encompasses Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and the NAACP, issued its report card on the past season. Attorney Johnnie Cochran and actor Bill Cosby participated by telephone.
The coalition gave ABC a “D-” grade for its lack of commitment to diversity. NBCscored the best grade with a “C,” while Fox got a “C-” and CBSa “D+.”
Mr. Torres told Electronic Media that he personally sent a letter to Disney President Bob Iger last week to discuss the lack of communication he has had with major executives at ABC. He said the network was late in giving the coalition statistics on the number of minorities at the network’s various divisions and working on prime-time shows.
“They have not been forthcoming,” Mr. Torres said. “I said I was dismayed at the intransigence of ABC officials to not convey to us the necessary materials so we could give them a grade. They signed the memorandum of understanding, and up until now they have not shown they meant it. Disney has many, many national advertisers that buy into their programming, and many viewers are minorities.”
In response to the coalition’s low marks, ABC spokeswoman Zenia Mucha said there are four ABC vice presidents in daytime programming, news, entertainment and corporate departments that also work on diversity issues.
“We’re disappointed that the coalition has misrepresented ABC’s record. The facts are ABC has had a 39 percent increase in ethnically diverse lead characters in our prime-time programming, a 47 percent increase in African American lead characters and a 57 percent increase in Hispanic lead characters.”
Ms. Mucha said some characters in pilots will be recast prior to the beginning of the season. “We expect improvements and additional changes to the diversity of the casts,” she said, adding that ABC’s “My Wife and Kids” is the No. 1 show in African American households.
The coalition will use Mr. Cochran’s legal expertise in deciding the best course of action.
“The time for talking is coming to an end,” Mr. Cochran said. “A lot of promises were made. … It’s got to stop, and the time has come for us to strategize an action plan.”
NBC was awarded a “C,” the best grade given, for its proactive response. “Although there’s still a long way to go, NBC has eight Asian American actors [on television],” said Karen Narasaki, executive director of National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium. Ms. Narasaki said NBC has a new series called `Scrubs,’ and with one out of six doctors in America being Asian, an Asian should have been cast in a major role.
Mr. Cosby said while there are more blacks in entertainment than other minority groups, many blacks are portrayed negatively.
“[The networks] don’t see a reason for including people and putting them in a series,” Mr. Cosby said. “It seems that we are these people who can bring a slowdown in ratings.
“They used to say, `Don’t put Negroes on television in the South, our ratings will go down,”’ Mr. Cosby said. “We haven’t really made any improvements. It’s an embarrassment in 2001, with your hat in hand to walk in a room and ask why we’re not being put on television. We’re asking that all of our children be given an opportunity. It still comes down to a matter of whether people will tolerate us. That’s a horrible word. And those in charge are tolerating us. Not good.”