NAACP Report Finds TV Networks Lagging in Diversity

Lynn Elber, AP, December 18, 2008

Nearly a decade after the NAACP condemned a “virtual whiteout” in broadcast TV, the civil rights group said major networks have stalled in their efforts to further ethnic diversity on-screen and off.

Television shows of the future could be even less inclusive because of a failure to cultivate young minority stars and to bring minorities into decision-making positions, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said.

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A “critical lack of programming by, for or about people of color” can be traced in part to the lack of minorities who have the power to approve new series or make final creative decisions, said Vicangelo Bulluck, executive director of NAACP’s Hollywood bureau.

In a report due to be released Thursday, the NAACP calls on networks to revisit a 2000 agreement to diversify the ranks of actors, writers, directors and executives. It also seeks to establish a task force with network executives, the NAACP and other civil rights groups.

The report raises the possibility of political action if progress is lacking, including a boycott against an unspecified network and its major advertisers or class-action litigation against the networks and parent companies.

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CW declined comment on the report, as did ABC, NBC and Fox. CBS received a request for comment late Wednesday and did not immediately respond.

On the heels of the 1999-2000 fall lineup of new shows that lacked any minority actors in lead roles—then-NAACP head Kweisi Mfume called it a “virtual whiteout”—the NAACP and Asian-American, Hispanic and Indian civil rights groups formed a coalition to lobby networks.

Broadcasters agreed to create minority recruitment and training programs and to chart minority hiring among actors, writers, directors and managers.

The coalition groups have charted their progress with annual reports, although the NAACP has not always participated, often finding sharp underrepresentation of minorities in front of and behind the camera.

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Reality programming has dampened employment prospects for minority actors and writers, as it has for whites, but shows like “Survivor” and “American Idol” do offer a benefit: They are likely to be more diverse in casting than most scripted series, the NAACP noted, providing a truer national portrait.

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