LOS ANGELES – Network television reflects more of the country's racial and ethnic diversity today than it did six years ago but much more progress could be made, according to a report released Thursday.
The diversity survey, issued annually since 1999 by members of the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition, gave mostly mediocre marks to the major broadcast networks for diversity in front of and behind the camera. The report assigns grades based on figures provided by Fox, ABC, NBC and CBS.
"There has been incremental progress," said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, part of the multi-ethnic coalition. "It's encouraging, but the numbers are still not where they should be."
Individual report cards were issued by the National Latino Media Council and the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition. Mark Reed, chairman of American Indians in Film and Television, gave the networks F grades across the board.
"The American Indian is invisible in prime-time television," he said.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which monitors the representation of blacks on television, is expected to issue its diversity report card in January.
Hispanics made noteworthy strides this year, Nogales said, particularly at ABC. He lauded the network for two of its prime-time programs, "The George Lopez Show" and "Freddie," which feature largely Hispanic casts and show some characters speaking Spanish.
ABC earned the highest overall marks from the Hispanic and Asian advocacy groups. It's a significant shift for the network, which "was beyond an F- six years ago," said Karen Narasaki, chairman of the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition.
ABC shows "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy" were celebrated for featuring Asian-American actors, writers, producers and directors. Two Asian-American actors earned Emmy nominations this year for their roles on ABC shows, Narasaki noted.
Fox, cited as a champion of TV diversity three years ago, lost favor this year with Asian and Hispanic groups. According to the report cards, the network comes up short in employing Hispanic actors and executives and needs to develop more programs for Asian performers.
"This is the second year in a row they've dropped," Narasaki said. "How is that that 'House' can be set in a hospital and there are no regular Asian-American roles?"
CBS lacks significant opportunities for Asian-American actors and writers, Narasaki said. "After five years, we haven't seen much progress," she said.
The network fared better with the Hispanic graders, who note CBS employs a large number of Hispanic actors and directors.
NBC has "huge numbers" of Hispanic actors and more than 20 Hispanic directors working on its programs, Nogales said. Asian writers maintain a notable presence at the network, but acting and producing roles declined significantly over the past year, Narasaki said.
Of 370 NBC episodes evaluated, only one was produced by an Asian-American, she said.
The Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition began issuing its diversity report cards in 1999, when a nearly all-white schedule of new network series provoked an outcry from civil rights groups, leading to agreements by broadcasters to improve their performance.
Network representatives said Thursday that diversity is important to them and they will try to increase it.