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NAACP Issues List of Demands to Networks

California

Television: Sweeping initiatives include timetables for adding minorities to corporate boards, production staffs.

November 11, 1999|GREG BRAXTON and DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The NAACP laid out its first specific demands of the major television networks Wednesday in its ongoing campaign to increase the role of minorities in the television industry.

The sweeping initiatives, listed in a five-page document that landed on executives' desks at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, propose timetables for adding minorities to corporate boards, hiring more minority writers and producers and other steps to dramatically change the industry's diversity policies.

The proposal was met with official silence. Industry executives had begun a dialogue in August with Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

The document not only outlined the civil rights group's specific demands for more minorities both in front of and behind the camera, but also called for the networks to increase their business dealings with minority vendors, advertisers, and professional services such as accounting and legal counsel.

It also called for a formal plan to provide minorities with an ownership stake in studios that produce TV programming.

The NAACP proposal laid out a timetable that would require network changes to begin taking effect as soon as March.

Several network executives said privately that the goals, some of which were so specific as to call for the appointment of an African American to the board of directors by Sept. 1, were not even within their control.

The initiatives arrived less than a week after Mfume called off the organization's plan for a boycott targeting one network.

Mfume instead called for a more drawn-out strategy, including the scheduling of an industry hearing. The change in direction has prompted some of the NAACP's allies to question whether the campaign against the industry, which Mfume announced in July, is losing steam.

At the time, Mfume called the networks "the most segregated industry in America" because of the near-absence of minorities cast in the new fall TV lineup, and declared that he would take definitive action if corrective measures were not taken.

The document did not contain numbers or quotas, or a specific ultimatum should the networks fail to meet the demands. However, Mfume said last week that if there was no appropriate network response, the organization would pick one network as the target of a nine-week boycott beginning Jan. 1.

Among the other measures called for was the establishment of a network recruitment program by March 1 to increase minority hiring and promotion in management and non-management positions, and the establishment of management compensation incentives linked to executives' "overall success" in diversifying.

In programming, the networks would have to drop their policy of requiring that writing samples identify the race of the author. At the same time, they would have to increase the number of scripts assigned each season to minority freelance writers.

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