New Study: Executives Break Promises To Improve Diversity Following Media Mergers
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Buzzfeed News highlighted a Columbia University study that found that "Media company mergers rarely result in a significant boost in representation for Latinos on or off screen, despite promises from studio executives to increase diversity."
Buzzfeed's report echoes prominent advocates for the Hispanic community who have previously underscored the importance of improving the representation of Latinos in the media. During a Media Matters-sponsored panel on September 17, 2015, Voto Latino's Maria Teresa Kumar pointed out that, although Latinos "are the second-largest demographic group of Americans," the policies, issues and opinions of this community "are completely missed from mainstream." National Council of La Raza's Janet Murguía added that media coverage of Latino issues often presents "a very shallow view of what the Latino voter looks like." The underrepresentation of Latinos in media is reflected across the board, including in government -- according to NPR's Latino USA, "Latinos make up 17 percent of the population of the country but only one percent of its elected officials."
Buzzfeed News' Adolfo Flores reported on January 15 that data from Columbia University's study showed "no significant increase in diversity behind the camera" after Comcast and NBCUniversal merged in 2011. The study also found that the percent of Latino senior executives at Comcast and NBCUniversal increased from zero to 3.1 percent, but that "only one [executive] held a senior position outside of Telemundo," the Spanish-language network owned by NBCUniversal. On-screen representation improved, but the "slight increase ... was accompanied by a significant rise in Latino stereotypes." Flores noted that the study examined all media mergers from 2008 to 2015, but focused on the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger "because it was the largets and well documented":
Media company mergers rarely result in a significant boost in representation for Latinos on or off screen, despite promises from studio executives to increase diversity, new research has found
The report -- The Latino Disconnect: The Impact of Media Mergers on Latino Consumers and Representation -- was provided to BuzzFeed News ahead of publication and analyzed the relationship between media mergers and Latinos from 2008 to 2015.
Researchers at Columbia University's Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race found there was no significant increase in diversity behind the camera after the 2011 Comcast-NBCUniversal merger, despite a pledge to increase Latino representation in programming.
"In general, we found that the increase in representation after the merger was very minimal and really only happens in front of the camera, which makes sense because it's the most visible," said Frances Negrón-Muntaner, the study's lead researcher.
Researchers looked at all mergers after 2008, but focused on the one between Comcast-NBCUniversal because it was the largest and well documented.
After the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger and through 2015, Latinos made up less than 7% of behind-the-camera talent across all categories on the network's top 10 shows, national news programs, and films. It also found that while the percentage of Latino directors increased on average 0.8% after the merger, the percentage of producers and writers decreased by 1.1% and 1.2%. Executive produce[r]s also declined by 0.4%.
The average number of all Latino actors on television increased from 6.6% before the merger to 7.3% afterward. The slight increase, the study states, was accompanied by a significant rise in Latino stereotypes on NBCUniversal. Latinos who appeared as maids, janitors, inmates, and police officers in NBC's top 10 scripted television shows nearly tripled from 2008 to 2014.
"Despite the fact that the majority of Latinos are U.S.-born and English-dominant," researchers wrote, "the percentage of Latino executives remained extremely low in the company's non-Spanish language media sector."
Researchers recommended that media companies develop plans to diversify leadership and creative positions and hire experienced Latinos behind the camera who can help writers avoid stereotypes.
UPDATE: Felix Sanchez, Executive Director and Co-Founder of The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts told Media Matters in a statement:
"This report is a cautionary tale that media mergers can usurp progress for minority communities. We have to follow the adage of trusting but verifying commitments made by companies before they merged. Given the findings of this study, we can conclude that not all key promises made have come to fruition."