Latinos and Public Broadcasting
The 2% factor

by Jesús Salvador Treviño

from Jump Cut, no. 28, April 1983, p. 65
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1983, 2005

From the time that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created on 27 March 1968, there has been little attention devoted to Hispanic television programming in public broadcasting at the national level. Although close to twenty million Hispanic Americans yearly pay billions of dollars in U.S. taxes, part of which go to fund public broadcasting, only about 2% of funds for television production allocated by CPB in the past fourteen years have gone to produce programs specifically geared toward the Hispanic communities of the United States.(1) Even today there still exists no ongoing public affairs, cultural affairs, or dramatic series for Hispanic Americans.

The employment record within the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with respect to Hispanics is even more shameful. Despite a history of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports highlighting the lack of Hispanics employed at CPB, at the present time there is only one staff person at CPB who is considered Hispanic and that individual is counted as half-Hispanic and half-Native American! (2)

At a time when the national Hispanic population will soon become the largest ethnic minority in the United States, these facts are outrageous and shameful. They point to conditions on which immediate action must be taken.


It is true that in 1968 a short-lived drama series, "Cancíon de la Raza" ("Song of the People") was broadcast at many PBS stations throughout the United States. But this series, which raised expectations among Hispanic Americans of the potential for Public Broadcasting's impact on Hispanic communities, was not funded by CPB but rather by the Ford Foundation. From its inception until the time it funded the first national Hispanic series, "Realidades," in 1974, CPB's only allocations for Hispanic productions were minimal step-up funds for a handful of locally produced shows which were later aired nationally.

Until "Realidades," the total of Hispanic programming at the national level was represented by programs funded by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, programs often geared to adolescent audiences such as "Villa Alegre," "Carrascolendas," and "Mundo Real." On rare occasions, Hispanic themes and issues were "mainstreamed" as part of regular news and public affairs series such as "NPACT," "The Advocates," or "Washington Week in Review." There was no regular, ongoing, dramatic, cultural, or documentary or — for that matter — news and public affairs series for the Hispanic community.


In 1974, television station WNET in New York received a contract for $60,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to produce a one-hour pilot intended to serve the national Hispanic American population: "Realidades." In the next three years CPB spent $400,000 on what became Season One (1975-1976) and $553,902 on Season Two (1976-1977) of the short-lived series. A total of thirteen half-hour programs were produced the first season and ten programs were produced the second season. At the conclusion of the second season, the series was offered to the Station Program Cooperative (SPC) for continued funding but was rejected. It was the end of the series.

In the period of 1976 through 1979, CPB met continued pressure for an ongoing series for Hispanics by funding four producers to develop pilot scripts for series production. Awards totaling about $153,992 were given to José Luis Ruiz ("Bless Me Ultima"), Lou De Lemos ("Oye Willie"), Jesús Treviño("La Historia"), and KERA-TV ("Centuries of Solitude"). An additional award was made in 1978 for pilot production for the "Oye Willie" project. By November of 1979, three of the projects had developed pilot scripts which had been refused further support by CPB. Only "Oye Willie" remained on the drawing boards. A contingent of Hispanic producers from throughout the nation were outraged. In November of 1979 they addressed the board of CPB calling attention to the fact that less than 1 percent of its production funds for the years 1978-1979 had been spent in "stalling" the Hispanic community while at the same time rejecting pilot scripts for production. In 1980 the "Oye Willie" project received $1.7 million for production. It was to be the second and, to date, only other national Hispanic series funded by CPT in its fourteen-year history.


Although efforts in 1981 have demonstrated the Program Fund's willingness to fund more Hispanic projects, there is still no stated or implied commitment to fund a national ongoing Hispanic drama series. The "Oye Willie" project, for what appear valid reasons, has not been funded for a second year, and other drama programs such as "The True Story of Gregorio Cortez" and "Seguín" have both been subsumed or "mainstreamed" into the "American Playhouse" drama series. Major documentaries such as "Island in Crisis" and "La Tierra" have been mainstreamed into the "Matters of Life and Death" anthology.


One device advanced by the Program Fund of the CPB to assure equitable participation of minorities in the decision-making process of awards to producers has been the creation of advisory panels to CPB staff. Although the Program Fund's advisory panels are seen by CPB staff as "…structured to include minorities and women,"(3) in fact, scrutiny of the makeup of panels reveals Hispanic participation as sporadic at best. No Hispanics were invited to serve on the news and public affairs panels, which awarded an approximate total of $5.7 million to programs like the "McNeil Lehrer Report," "World," "The Lawmakers," "Inside Story," and "Crisis to Crisis." No Hispanic groups or individuals were recipients of these funds either.

Similarly, the drama panel which awarded a commitment of $7.5 million over a three-year period to the "American Playhouse" drama series included no Hispanics.

At this time it is uncertain to what extent Hispanics had input into the decision to fund a new $5 million documentary series or the extent to which this series will employ, program, or address Hispanics and Hispanic issues.


Despite a good faith effort in the past two years on the part of the Program Fund to rectify years of neglect in Hispanic programming, the overall percentage of production dollars devoted to Hispanic projects remains shamefully low — only about 2% of total CPB funds for television production over the past fourteen years has gone to produce Hispanic programs.(4)

The deplorable situation with respect to Hispanics outlined in this background is not new to either CPB board or staff. Over the years many reports and studies have been issued outlining the concerns herein expressed. The most impressive of these studies was a $200,000 report which took two years to complete entitled, "A Formula for Change." This report, published in 1978, carefully documents and outlines affirmative action which must be taken to rectify inequitable conditions with respect to minorities and to Hispanics. Yet, three years after the "Formula for Change" report, how can there still be only one Hispanic employed on the staff of CPB? How can there still be no Hispanic series on the air? And why are Hispanics still being excluded from participation on key advisory panels of the Program Fund? What will it take to bring about equity for Hispanics?


1. The table compiled herein compares total funds allocated by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for television production with funds allocated for Hispanic television production.

2. As reported by CPB President Edward Pfister and CPB Board Vice Chairman Jose Rivera before an assembly of Asian, Hispanic, and black producers in Los Angeles on 11 December 1981.

3. Report by President Edward Pfister to CPB board, January 1982.

4. This table was prepared from information contained in the annual reports of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting years 1968-1981 inclusive and from other public information on Hispanic projects funded during these years. The table does not address distribution funds in which Hispanics have also been slighted to a degree similar to that in production.