For the eighth year, the "National Brownout" study by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists found inadequate attention paid to America's largest and fastest-growing minority.
"This year's report once again highlights the dismal progress the networks have made in their coverage of the nation's Hispanic community," association President Juan Gonzalez, a New York Daily News columnist, said in a statement.
The 120 Hispanic-related stories made up less than 1 percent (0.75 percent) of the approximately 16,000 that aired on the major newscasts in 2002, the study found. That represents a small increase over 2001's 0.62 percent.
Hispanics make up more than 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Two-thirds of all evening newscast stories concerning Hispanics were about crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, according to the study of ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN.
The kidnap-murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in California and subsequent arrest of Alejandro Avila, who awaits trial, dominated the crime category with 18 stories.
Also heavily covered with 21 stories was the case of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member who is accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb.
There were efforts to report on Hispanic life more comprehensively with, for example, politics and the growing Hispanic vote the topic of eight network stories, the study found.
"We are pleased to see that there is some progress being made, but recognize that there is still more work to be done," NBC News said in a statement.
ABC led the way with more balanced coverage of Hispanics and with stories on a wide range of topics, the study found. One ABC correspondent, Judy Muller, was singled out for her contributions.
"ABC News is very committed to diversity on the air, behind the camera and in the stories that we tell," ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said Wednesday.
Overall, there was an increased use of Hispanics as interview subjects and a slight increase in the length of Hispanic-related stories (from 2 minutes, 25 seconds in 2001, to 2 minutes, 51 seconds in 2002).
But the results were largely troubling, especially given the critical role TV news plays in shaping American perceptions, the report concluded.
The failure to reflect a broader, more balanced view of Hispanic life may stem in part from the lack of Hispanics in newsrooms and in broadcast management, the journalists' association said.
Networks have consistently rejected a request to report on the racial and ethnic makeup of their newsrooms, although newspapers and local radio and TV broadcasters conduct such studies, the association said.
Data for the NAHJ study came from the Vanderbilt University Television News Archives. The research and data analyses were conducted by Serafin Mendez and Diane Alverio, who also co-wrote the report with Rod Carveth.