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Comcast/NBCU Deal: Diversity Divide

Related: Lines in the Sand

COMCAST AND NBC Universal tried last week to ford the stream on what some are calling a diversity divide related to their vaunted deal. While some critics applauded their proposed advances in promoting the diversity issue, others found the new promises not quite good enough. The companies’ new and expanded pledges came in advance of a House Judiciary Committee field hearing in Los Angeles that focused on diversity.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” says Samuel Kang, managing attorney for advocacy group The Greenlining Institute, who testified at the hearing in opposition to the deal. But he said Comcast would need to do much more “to approach adequate representation of the diverse demographics in the country.”

And Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a prominent figure in the hearing who has been pushing the FCC to keep diversity front and center in its review, had more to say about the motivation of the announcement than its substance, while adding she still needed to review the proposals. According to an aide, Waters doubted that the new pledges would have been made save for the big stick of a hearing.

Said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, “We’ve been working with diversity groups, members of Congress and other interested parties since the deal announcement on additional commitments.”

Comcast initially proposed adding six independent diversity-related channels over a three-year period. Last week, the company promised that three of those channels would have a substantial minority ownership interest, though Comcast did not define “substantial.”

Some of the deal’s critics gave Comcast and NBCU credit for advancing the ball, but said the effort still fell short. “More is always welcome,” said Free Press Policy Counsel Corie Wright. “But it still doesn’t alleviate the concerns we would have about the merger, and there are still some key issues where Comcast and NBCU could be making commitments to serve communities of color better.”

According to sources, Free Press plans to join with Media Access Project, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America to file a petition to deny the deal. Such petitions are due by June 21.

“I think [the diversity efforts] are inadequate and we have a long way to go,” Kang said, slamming the companies’ business strategies as “gut, cut and strut.”

All those in favor
Associations representing black mayors and black and Hispanic state legislators, however, have weighed in during the past couple of weeks in favor of the deal, and there were witnesses stepping up to vouch for the companies’ past efforts at the hearing.

Asked how he explained this apparent diversity divide, Kang chalked up such deal supporters to Comcast’s lobbying muscle. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of policymakers who are influenced by the wide reach of Comcast lobbying,” he said. “I don’t think there is a disconnect between elected representatives and the needs of the public, but when the needs of the public can’t get into the front door as often as Comcast can, that’s why there are conflicting views on this.”

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