ABC, NBC and Fox execs walked out of a NAACP hearing on minority representation in TV on Monday after the org shuffled their scheduled testimony to later in the day.
The three networks said their representatives were originally supposed to appear immediately after CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves, the only network chief to RSVP.
Moonves took the floor following NAACP CEO Kweisi Mfume’s opening statements, but representatives from the other three webs were pushed back to early afternoon.
Testifying to a packed room of execs, actors, producers and officials from a wide variety of civil rights groups, Moonves stressed CBS’ roster of minority performers and newscasters. He also noted that 21.5% of CBS employees, but only 14.8% of execs, are minorities.
“We have much to be proud of in this regard,” Moonves said. “We also recognize that our record can be improved upon.”
The group of panelists posing questions, including Mfume, were clearly disappointed that Moonves was the only network topper to make an appearance. Mfume stressed that Moonves had cut short a trip to Rome in order to testify at the meeting.
“It speaks a mouthful about your network and says a lot about your competitors who are not here,” former congressman Esteban Torres told Moonves.
NAACP spokesman John White said the other networks would have had a chance to speak early in the day had they sent their heavy hitters.
“I am sure if people of equal stature at the other networks were here we would have had them sitting next to Leslie Moonves,” White said.
He added that he did change the schedule to accommodate the network execs, moving them up to before an afternoon break.
“Congressional hearings never run on time,” he noted.
Chris Hikawa, vice president of broadcast standards and practices at ABC, and Rosalyn Weinman, exec VP of broadcast content policy at NBC, said they had to catch flights back to the East Coast in the afternoon.
Roland McFarland, VP of broadcast standards and practices at Fox, and Donald Gadsden, senior VP of business affairs and music services administration at NBC, departed in solidarity with the other execs.
“We are disappointed that we were not allowed to make our statements in front of the NAACP,” Hikawa said.
ABC, NBC and Fox spokesmen said they were told late last week that their representatives had been scheduled to appear in the morning.
They also said they were told not to worry if the network chiefs couldn’t attend. ABC Television president Pat Fili-Krushel, for example, wasn’t able to make Monday’s session but is scheduled to meet with Mfume next week.
The NAACP scheduled the public meeting to get an update on the state of minority hiring and diverse representation in television. Mfume reiterated that the org will probably announce by mid-December a boycott of one or more of the broadcast networks to commence in January.
“I expect for network television to take all of us very seriously in this matter,” Mfume said.
“They run the real risk of a sustained, focused and continuous consumer action in the form of repetitive boycotts, picketing and large-scale demonstrations in front of their network headquarters, the offices of network-owned affiliates nationwide and the headquarters of their major advertisers.”
Monday’s hearing was just one step in the NAACP’s ongoing campaign to investigate diversity in primetime and the hiring of minorities for executive positions and other jobs behind the camera.
“We’re not going to be like the circus, here today, gone next week, as long as I’m president and CEO of this organization,” Mfume said.
The four major nets were also sent a questionnaire by the NAACP earlier this month asking for raw employment and financial data related to the hiring of minorities. The network reps said those questionnaires would be returned by Dec. 20.
Torres said the NAACP would turn over its findings to the Justice Dept. and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which he said was considering whether to investigate the networks’ hiring practices.
Both Moonves and ABC’s Hikawa (in her prepared statement) said performance reviews of execs will be directly tied into their success in hiring minorities.
In exchange for increased vigilance on hiring minorities, Moonves asked the NAACP for its support in “championing free and universal over-the-air broadcasting.”
Besides Mfume and Torres, the NAACP panel was comprised of the org’s chief counsel, Dennis Hayes; assistant general counsel Debra Liu; Karen Narasaki, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium; and American Indians in Film’s Sonny Skylark.