NAAAOM Seeks More Diverse Contracting From AT&T/DirecTV

The National Association of African American Owned Media has filed a $10 billion lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV for race discrimination and violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, alleging discrimination in contracting. AT&T is currently in the process of trying to buy DirecTV and efforts to spur deal conditions or pledges on diversity, in programming and contracting, are not unusual.

The group claims the companies, which are trying to merge, have refused to contract with 100% African American owned media. AT&T points out that it was recently named number one on DiversityInc.'s list of most diverse supplier.

Actually, the group concedes that the companies do contract with 100% African American owned companies, just at a percentage that does not cut it given that African Americans make up 13% of the population. "It is estimated that collectively, AT&T and DirecTV spend approximately $22 billion dollars in both cable channel carriage license fees and advertising," the group said, "while less than $3 million of those dollars are allocated to 100% African American owned media."

They also want more carriage of African American owned TV networks, which they say rely on distributors like AT&T and DirecTV to provide a wide range of diverse viewpoints.

The suit was filed in California U.S. District Court.

"Diversity is a top priority for AT&T as demonstrated by the national recognition we received for our programs and performance," said AT&T in a statement, "including DiversityInc naming AT&T No.1 on its 2014 Top 10 Companies for Supplier Diversity.

"In all AT&T U-verse markets, customers can watch numerous African-American-oriented networks, including BET, BET Gospel, Encore Black, OWN, Starz in Black, TV One, and VH1 Soul. Also, we make Justice Central, a 100 percent African-American-owned television network, available to more than 95 percent of our subscriber base. And it’s important to note we spent $15.5 billion with diverse suppliers in 2013."

The FCC is currently vetting the AT&T/DirecTV merger, having restarted its informal deal clock only yesterday (Dec. 3).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.