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Saturday, September 11, 1999 Published at 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK

World: Americas

TV boycott call for US minorities

TV trauma....the American networks are under fire for their minority profile

A coalition of Hispanic groups in the United States is calling on its members to observe a two-week boycott of the country's four major television networks in protest at the "invisibility" of minorities in their programmes.

[ image: Jimmy Smits - One of the few Hispanic stars on American TV]
Jimmy Smits - One of the few Hispanic stars on American TV
The boycott, or "brownout", targets ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, and is timed to hit the first fortnight of their new autumn TV season which starts on Sunday 12 September.

African Americans, Asian Americans and American Indians are also being urged to participate, representatives from dozens of civil rights organisations announced at a news conference in New York.

They are advising members to read books or rent videos during the boycott.

'Don't take us for granted'

"What we seek is that big networks stop taking us for granted," said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic coordinating organisation whose 240 affiliate groups claim a membership of some three million.

Mr Yzaguirre, whose group sponsored the conference, said the major networks' autumn schedules are inundated with white actors, and failed to reflect the "rich multi-ethnic, multi-cultural" US population.

His group had counted just one Hispanic - Martin Sheen, on NBC's "The West Wing" - among the lead characters in the 38 new series opening this autumn.

Three others continue on returning series.

Unacceptable 'injustice'

He added that the boycott was the first of a series of actions that would be taken to compel the networks to address the lack of minority representation on television.

John White of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) agreed.

"Public interest is not served well by a monolithic, all-white presentation of the world," he said.

Sonny Skyhawk, who founded the American Indians in Film group, said the networks' exclusion or misrepresentation of minorities was an unacceptable "injustice".

Figures show that Hispanics, set to be the largest minority in the US by 2025, make up about 11% of the US population, but provide fewer than 1% of characters on TV.

Networks' response

Some networks have already made cast changes, though executives insisted they were in the pipeline before the outcry, which started in July when the NAACP, the nation's largest and oldest civil rights group, said it would begin monitoring minority representation on TV.

The networks have all issued statements in response to the boycott.

ABC, NBC and Fox say they are making it a priority to look at diversity on screen. CBS says it does have minority roles in its prime-time programmes.

But the boycott organisers say they are not going to lift their pressure until they see the melting pot that is America reflected on the small screen.

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