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Minority Groups Mend Rift Over TV Diversity

Media: Multiethnic coalition will intensify and expand efforts to include studios and cable networks. One leader calls earlier split a 'misunderstanding.'

January 12, 2000|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Less than a week after a rift divided the multiethnic coalition that has been pressing to increase diversity on network television, leaders of the group came together Tuesday to publicly mend those divisions, at the same time announcing plans to intensify and expand their initiatives to include studios and cable networks.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, National Latino Media Council head Esteban Torres, National Hispanic Media Coalition President Alex Nogales and members of Asian and Native American groups used a news conference to discuss their renewed solidarity, saying they will share responsibilities in future talks with networks, studios, talent agencies and cable networks.

On Thursday, Torres criticized Mfume--who had taken the leadership role in the negotiations with the networks--just a day after the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People leader and NBC jointly announced an unprecedented agreement to ensure greater involvement for minorities at the network. ABC followed with its own agreement on Friday, and similar deals with CBS and Fox are expected soon.

Torres was upset over what he characterized as the exclusion of nonblack coalition members from the agreement as well as participation in the NBC news conference. He and other coalition members charged that the agreement met most of the NAACP's demands, not theirs.

On Tuesday, Torres attributed his anger to "misunderstanding, miscommunication and different perceptions. We're all human, we all make mistakes. But we are now united as one entity." A series of conference calls and meetings helped resolve the break.

Mfume, stressing his admiration and support for other leaders in the coalition, said that he had always represented the coalition, not just the NAACP, in his talks with networks: "I want to underscore my belief in this partnership and the coalition."

Joining them was California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who last year sponsored a seminar calling on the networks to increase multiculturalism in front of and behind the camera.

The leaders made their joint statement a few hours before heading to NBC and CBS to continue their talks with executives. Despite the agreement with NBC, the coalition said it wanted to push for additional measures, including calling for the appointment of a vice president of labor diversity at each network to oversee the new efforts, and guarantees of more development deals for minorities.

Mfume added that the focus of the campaign would soon expand. The emphasis since the protest began in July has been on the four major networks after they programmed new fall shows without a single minority in a leading role. Mfume said the spotlight would soon be put on the fledgling UPN and WB networks, as well as the cable and talent agencies.

Mfume said that other members of the coalition would rotate chairmanship of the group when the talks expanded into those other areas.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Mfume, referring to the NBC and ABC agreements. "We are absolutely interested in what is happening--and not happening--at UPN and the WB. We're interested in the independent cable networks, and the agencies."

The two much smaller networks had been left out of the initial push, in part because both have several prime-time series with primarily black casts, including UPN's teen comedy "Moesha," starring Brandy, and WB's Friday night comedy lineup, which features "The Steve Harvey Show," the No. 1 show among black audiences. Executives at UPN and WB could not be reached for comment.

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A WHITE WORLD: Study finds that, while diversity exists, TV casts remain mostly white and male. F1

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