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Mfume warns of another boycott

The head of the NAACP revived the group's call for a network boycott, charging that broadcast networks reneged on last year's promise to hire more minorities in management and to produce shows with more-diverse casts.

"The snail's pace reaction by the networks one year after reaching a set of preliminary agreements with the NAACP and other groups leaves little hope that the networks understand or are willing to look at and work on the issue of diversity of opportunity on their corporate boards, in the executive, production and talent ranks," Kweisi Mfume told NATPE conventioneers Tuesday.

He warned that it is "increasingly likely" that the NAACP will boycott one of the top-four networks and its advertisers.

He also said the group would fight for legislation aimed at giving minorities, as well as other independent program producers, a better shot at getting their shows carried on TV. Objectives include reviving the old financial-interest and syndication (fin-syn) rules, which prohibited networks from profiting in the domestic syndication of shows on their air, and using the law mandating at least three hours a week of kids' programming on every station as a model for minority-programming carriage.

Mfume said drastic action is needed because consolidation is eliminating opportunities for minority and other independent programmers to get shows on the air. Also, last week's federal court ruling striking down the FCC's new minority-recruiting rules make the initiatives more critical. Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland, said he hopes to take advantage of his good relations with lawmakers of both parties to overcome the aversion that Republicans controlling Congress, the White House and FCC have toward new regulation.

Mfume said he hopes to meet soon with key lawmakers and new FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Although the industry has successfully argued that many traditional broadcast regulations became obsolete with the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Mfume said, in many poor or under-served communities, old restrictions still provide needed protections. "The networks utilize the public airwaves, which in many communities is the only television that some poor whites and some communities of color can even afford."

Mfume's call for direct action was endorsed by a panel of minority individuals in the TV industry including Soul Train
creator Don Cornelius, Divorce Court
star Mablean Ephriam, TV personality and producer Byron Allen, De Passe Entertainment chief Suzanne de Passe, Telepictures SVP Kevin Fortson, and HopPopTv.Com creative director Jacqueline Kong.