TV Networks Score Poorly on Serving Public Interest
Major television networks have room to improve their programming content, according to the third annual Feminist Primetime Report, released yesterday by the National Organization for Women (NOW). Evaluating network programming on ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, UPN, and WB in the categories of gender diversity, violence, sexual exploitation, and social responsibility, over 80 teams of “feminist field analysts” reviewing 107 programs during the first six months of 2002—found shows overwhelmingly focused on violence and sexual exploitation. NOW President Kim Gandy remarked, “Network programming sends a distorted, often offensive, image of women, girls and people of color—brought to you through the point-of-view of white men and boys. Television remains very much a man’s world, with women serving primarily as ‘eye candy.’”
Each evening, networks transmitting information through the airwaves under free broadcast licenses, reach over 106 million people in the US. According to the 1934 Communications Act, these licenses are granted under the condition that networks “serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.” However, NOW’s report, a component of the organization’s “Watch Out, Listen Up!” campaign, reveals widespread programming inadequacies regarding gender, social, and economic diversity. For example, summing all six networks, men hold 134 more regular primetime roles than women. Also, despite people of color comprising almost 31 percent of the US population, last season, Asian American women portrayed only four key roles, and no representatives existed for Native American or Middle Eastern women.
In a more positive light, some progress is being made. The WB since 2001 has consistently employed 50 percent female and 50 percent male lead and supporting actors. An article appearing yesterday in USA Today indicated that, for the first time in prime-time television, black women are producers on all four comedies airing Monday nights on UPN. The women are: Sara Finney-Johnson of The Parkers, Eunetta Boone of One on One, Mara Brock Akil of Girlfriends, and Yvette Lee Bowser of Half and Half. Still Finney-Johnson emphasizes, “there’s much more work to be done…”
Media Resources: Variety 10/29/02; NOW press release 10/28/02; NOW report 10/28/02; USA Today 10/28/02