LOS ANGELES -- The booming U.S. Hispanic population has yet to be reflected in the news reports of the major broadcast networks and CNN, a new study shows.
Out of about 16,000 stories on the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN last year, only 99 -- 0.62 percent -- were about Hispanics, according to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
The number was a slight increase over 2000, when there were 84 such stories, or 0.53 percent, according to the highly critical "Network Brownout Report" released Monday.
"The networks' dismal record of covering the nation's fastest-growing minority group undermines the information needs of all U.S. residents and distorts the public discourse so necessary for any democratic society," said the association's president, Juan Gonzalez.
Hispanics now represent 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, and their numbers have increased nearly 60 percent since 1990 to 35.3 million.
What news stories the networks did carry on Hispanics often tended to be stereotypical and unflattering, the study said.
"Stories about Latinos frequently used the image of the border to suggest a divide between the Latino and non-Latino populations and to define Latinos as illegal immigrants," the association said.
ABC had the most stories about Hispanics, 31, followed by NBC with 24. CBS and CNN had 22 each, the study found.
A lack of newsroom diversity is a major reason for the scant number of Hispanic-related stories, the association said.
Two of the networks responded that they are taking steps to improve their coverage, including hiring more Hispanics.
"I think the report is important in that it points out the work that all media organizations need to do to create greater diversity within our ranks, in our newsrooms, among our producers and in our correspondents and anchors," said ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider.
He noted that Hispanic reporters Barbara Pinto and Taina Hernandez were among recently hired correspondents.
"NBC News is very cognizant of the growing importance of Hispanics in America," that network said. "Last year we increased the number of Latino-related stories, and we recently acquired the Spanish language network, Telemundo, which is now being integrated into the NBC News family."
A CBS spokeswoman said the report was being studied and the network had no immediate comment. A call to CNN was not immediately returned.
For the second consecutive year, the study found protests over U.S. military exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques was the dominant story about Hispanics, with 25 reports. The other leading story topics were government (15), migration (11) and sports (five).
One area of improvement was cited: The number of Hispanic-related stories in which Hispanics were interviewed was 67.6 percent, compared with 24.4 percent in the 2000 study.
The report for the 1,700-member association was prepared by Serafin Mendez-Mendez of Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., and Diane Alverio, a past association president.