Children Now sez TV still under-represents minorities

A new study on race and gender diversity on television has found that networks aren’t making the grade when it comes to fair and accurate representation in their programming.

Among the findings of “Fall Colors 2003-04: Prime Time Diversity Report,” issued by child research and action org Children Now:

  • The presence of Latino characters on this season’s primetime TV rose to 6% from 4% last season, and more than half of all primetime shows include at least one Latino character, but Latinos are still two times more visible in real life than on television;

  • male characters outnumbered their female counterparts nearly 2-to-1; females are more likely to be ages 19-29 while males are more likely to be 30-39;

  • representations of Asian and Pacific Islander characters have declined in the past year; the U.S. Asian population is more than double the percentage found on primetime TV;

  • 46% of Middle Eastern characters were portrayed as criminals, while both Latino and Middle Eastern characters are more likely to be criminals than hold a professional job; and

  • Native American characters were completely absent from the episodes studied.

Study is the fourth such report by Children Now, with the goal of providing a five-year progress report on the nets’ stated efforts to increase diversity in their shows.

Researchers examined two episodes of each primetime entertainment series on the six national broadcast networks; midseason replacements were not included.

While the org praised the progress made in increasing Latino representation, the good news was tempered by the fact that Latino characters in the study are more likely to hold low-paying jobs than other racial groups.

The study also determined that the 8 o’clock hour, when children are most likely to be watching, is primetime’s least diverse hour of programming. And sitcoms, the genre of choice among kids, are the least likely shows to have racially mixed casts.

“The message primetime TV sends to kids about the world in which they live is that some racial groups are privileged, while others are under-represented or even invisible,” said Patti Miller, director of Children Now’s Children & the Media program.

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