Groups Band Together to Press for Diversity Campaign : Television: Organizations form 19-member coalition to make networks include more minority characters and employees on their shows.


A broad coalition of groups representing African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans said they would join forces in demanding more ethnic diversity from the four major broadcast television networks: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at a Manhattan press conference to announce the new joint effort, also unveiled a plan, which he said was developed with NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, to pressure presidential candidates to take a stand on the under-representation of minority groups on the air and behind the cameras.

Before the formation of the 19-member coalition, the ethnic groups had largely been acting on their own since the issue came to the forefront when the networks announced their fall schedules in May, with almost no minority actors in their new shows.


The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, for example, has said it plans to launch a boycott of one or two networks during the November “sweeps” period that is used to set advertising rates. And a coalition of Latino groups has called for a viewer boycott, which they’ve labeled a “brownout,” for two weeks beginning Sunday.

Coalition members, noting that they represent 30% of the American population, said they plan to endorse one another’s boycotts and any other future actions taken. Although groups such as the NAACP have already held individual meetings with network executives, any future negotiations--provided the networks agree to negotiate--would be handled as a group, said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza.

Karen Narasaki, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, said that by working together, the groups will have “the power to match the power that the networks can throw at us.”

Co-chairing the coalition will be Mfume; Sonny Skyhawk, executive director of American Indians in Film and Television; and two former California congressmen, Norman Mineta of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, and Esteban Torres, co-chair of the National Latino Media Council.

Since May, the networks have added a number of ethnically diverse characters to their shows, although they have insisted that many of the changes were already in the works before the complaints began. Narasaki called the changes “window dressing,” saying “we want lasting institutional change.”

In response to the new coalition, a CBS spokesman reiterated the network’s position that it “remains committed to diversity in both its programming and its organization,” saying CBS is proud of its shows “but recognizes that improvement may be needed within our industry. We recognize and respect the issues they have raised and are open to discussing them.”


NBC said “creating diversity on and off our air has been and continues to be a top priority. Although we are very proud of the minority representation in many of our series, we realize there is still work to be done.”

Fox said: “We agree that increasing racial and ethnic diversity in television is an important goal, and toward that end, we continue to pursue opportunities both on camera and behind the scenes.”

ABC didn’t return calls.