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Latino Groups Urge Boycott of Network TV

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lambasting the dearth of Latino faces--and the even greater lack of positive images among those faces--in film and network TV, a coalition of Latino media groups called Tuesday for a one-week boycott of network television starting Sept. 12.

“Latinos are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” said Felix Sanchez of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Latinos, who represent about 11% of the population, make up fewer than 2% of characters on TV, according to the coalition.

The leaders spoke at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza, an umbrella group of organizations that represent 3 million people. The media coalition includes the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, Nosotros, a Latino media-tracking foundation and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

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Latinos, the leaders said, should flex their estimated $380 billion in annual consumer might, to change their images on film and video.

“We’re all tired of talking to networks about the same thing, day in and day out, with nothing changing at the end of the day,” said Alex Nogales, spokesman for the NHMC. The so-called “brownout,” scheduled for the week before the new season, puts media producers on notice, he added.

“If you don’t want us in Hollywood,” Nogales said, “if you’re not going to hire us, we’re not going to consume your product.”

La Raza President Raul Yzaguirre said the media activists were galvanized by this fall’s prime-time network lineup, which feature no minority leads in 26 new comedies and dramas.

The leaders also demanded a federal study of media imagery’s impact on Latinos’ self-esteem. The study, proponents argued, should augment a current federal study on the impact of media violence.

The groups’s announcement is the most dramatic gesture in an mounting wave of minority exasperation with TV portrayals. Two weeks ago, the NAACP, while not calling for a boycott, strongly condemned the network’s fall lineup.

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NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said the civil rights group was considering possible litigation against the networks for violating the Federal Communications Act, which safeguards public access to the airwaves. The NAACP is also considering calling for its own consumer boycott of exclusionary networks and their advertising sponsors, and for congressional hearings on network ownership and licensing issues.

Network representatives have responded with a mix of sheepishness and resolve to the recent criticisms.

ABC has promised to add at least five minority characters to its prime-time lineup. NBC has said, “We realize there is still work to be done.” And Tuesday, CBS spokesman Chris Ender said, “We do have some Latino actors in very primary roles, like Cheech Marin and Hector Elizondo. We do consider the issues they raised very important. We believe that all the networks can do more and intend to do more.”

Yzaguirre said his group had conducted several analyses of Latinos on TV, and found Latinos to be more negatively portrayed than other ethnic groups. These portrayals, Yzaguirre said, not only warped other Americans’ view of Latinos but distorted Latinos’ views of themselves.

“Most Americans have a negative or very low opinion of Latinos, based on what they see on TV or in movies,” Yzaguirre said. “With the absence of minority figures of all kinds (in the electronic media) we have a situation that’s getting worse, not better.”

The boycott, coalition leaders said, was meant to launch a prolonged battle, not to be an end in itself.

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Other measures will include meetings with advertisers and a campaign to buy stocks as a way of asserting power in publicly owned stockholder meetings.

Even if they don’t create direct economic chokeholds, boycotts can have a striking effect on corporate behavior, said political scientist Rodolfo Rosales, of the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Boycotts are the poor people’s way of lobbying,” Rosales said. ‘It would be naive to say that a weeks’ boycott would change the behavior of TV networks overnight. But it does make them think about these things . . . it establishes an agenda where we can talk about these issues.”

Times researcher Lianne Hart contributed to this story.

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