Commentary

Holding the Television Networks Accountable to the Latino Community

January 21, 2011

Commentary:
By Alex Nogales

   The National Latino Media Council (NLMC) issued its annual report cards last month grading the four major television networks on their efforts to diversify employment in front and behind the camera. At that time, I noted that while the networks improved upon their efforts to bring more Asian Pacific Americans and African Americans into the fold, their efforts to include Latinos decreased significantly. Indeed, ABC, NBC and Fox all received “D”s or “F”s in at least one out of the eight categories evaluated.

   The first decade of this century was a turbulent one for American Latinos. As the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) and other civil rights groups strove to improve the image of American Latinos as portrayed in the media, countless others took toward defaming and disparaging us. NHMC witnessed a violent surge in anti-Latino hate speech mid-decade after the historic immigration marches, followed by an FBI-documented 40% increase in hate crimes against Latinos.

   I wish I could tell you that things will be better in 2011, but they won’t. Anti-Latino measures are springing up all over the country, many of them based on the fear-mongering and misinformation that has become all too common on mainstream media, pushed by some supposed journalists, extremist commentators and even politicians.

   At this time, it is more important than ever that we as a community be empowered to share our own stories fairly and accurately, that people outside of the Latino community be exposed to our rich diversity and significant contributions to this country. Without this exposure, Latinos remain in the shadows as second class citizens, instead of real individuals with feelings, values and aspirations.

   Yet, at this important crossroads, the TV networks are failing us. As the 2010 census numbers come out, we learn that Latinos are the fastest-growing population in the country, yet our numbers in front and back of the camera are dropping. This makes no sense. Insofar as broadcasters are public trustees and supposedly smart business people, this is short-sighted, at best.

   And as our elected officials and appointed regulators charged with examining, evaluating and adapting media and telecommunications policies carry on their duties in 2011, the failure of inclusion at the TV networks should and will be factored into their analyses.

   Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) has already pointed to the NLMC TV network report cards in her evaluation of whether Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, should be permitted to merge with NBC-Universal. In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Congresswoman Waters requested that Comcast file the Memoranda of Understanding it signed with Asian Pacific American, African American and Latino groups as amendments to its merger application and make the MOUs enforceable. The Congresswoman cited the report cards as grounds that Comcast must be closely monitored.

   We will be a part of this process, building off the experience we have in monitoring the television networks. However, the Comcast-NBCU merger is not the only media policy issue to which the report cards are relevant.

   This year the FCC will be undertaking a number of issues that could impact television diversity and media diversity on the whole. It will complete its quadrennial review of its broadcast media ownership rules – rules that, if weakened, could seriously diminish the diversity of programs that we see over broadcast television.

   In addition, the FCC will have an opportunity to decide whether or not to collect EEO – equal employment opportunity – and ownership data from broadcasters, and whether to make that information publicly available so that we can hold our local broadcasters accountable in our communities. And, perhaps most importantly, in just a few weeks the FCC will approach its second anniversary of failing to act upon NHMC’s petition for inquiry on hate speech in media; hate speech, unfortunately, is a common practice that could be less common if we had more than a meager number of ethnically diverse individuals owning broadcast stations.

   Very often, policymakers are unconnected to how the policies they create impact the people. It is NHMC’s job to remind them. So in 2011, we hope that the facts on the ground are considered, the report cards being one of them. Congratulations to Congresswoman Waters for being one of the first to do so.

Alex Nogales, President and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC). He can be reached at anogales@nhmc.org.

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