Asian Americans Underrepresented in News Media

May 31,2016

WASHINGTON— Recent controversies surrounding Hollywood’s casting of white actors to play Asian characters have some people wondering why popular media continue to ignore minorities. Despite calls by advocacy groups to increase hiring, some Asians fear they are becoming invisible, token characters, especially in the entertainment media. Analysts say the problem extends to television news, where they say minorities are often underrepresented and their viewpoints largely ignored.

Clicking through the channels, you might not see many Asians reporting on the evening news, even though they're the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

Juju Chang is one of a only a handful of Asian-American news anchors, and she said it’s due to a lack of diversity in top management.

“When I went on air at the network here, I was the only Asian-American and among the few women, and I'm sad to say that many all these many years later, I think that we've gone a long way in terms of diversity in front of the camera, but I think we still have a ways to go behind the scenes, especially in upper management,” said Chang.

Chang said it's important for minorities to be involved when story ideas are approved.

“Until Asian-Americans get real traction in that sense, you know, we're going to keep pressing our noses against the invisible window,” she said.

Asians make up only three percent of the broadcast workforce. Journalism Professor Angie Chuang said a cultural bias may be to blame.

“The truth is that all kinds of psychological studies and employment studies have shown that we tend to favor or be more comfortable with people who are like us,” said Chuang.

Gender bias is another issue. Television journalist Alan Wang spoke to us on Skype.

“I think the image for Asian women for other people is that they’re soft, they're beautiful, they're not threatening, whereas the image of the Asian male, what you’re looking at, really has been the face of the enemy of this country during the last three major conflicts,” said Wang.

Analysts say Asians lack the political clout of other groups such as African-Americans and Hispanics. Another group fighting for greater representation is the Asian American Journalists Association. VOA spoke with the group's Vice-President for Broadcast Niala Boodhoo on Skype.

“I feel like even having those conversations is something that would not have happened years ago, and I think the fact that we're even having those conversations is a sign of progress. But there is more to be done,” said Boodhoo.

A leading broadcast industry group says 2011 was the best year for Asian American broadcasters - that’s when Asians made up just 3.5 percent of the industry. But that percentage has declined since then. And, without greater representation, many Asians fear issues important to their communities will continue to be misinterpreted or ignored.