Rev. Jackson Asks Dish's Ergen to End Tribune Blackout

Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is calling for Dish Network to end the blackout of Tribune Media's cable network WGN America by reaching a fair-market deal.

Dish said in a statement that it seemed that Jackson had only heard the Tribune side of the story and that CEO Charlie Ergen had invited Jackson and Tribune CEO Peter Liguori to lunch in Denver to hash things out. Dish said it got no response to its invitation. “We are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for Dish customers,” Dish said.

Tribune Media's stations, as well as WGN America, have been off Dish for two weeks because of a retransmission consent fee dispute. Both sides say they've offered extensions and Dish has sued Tribune over ads it calls disparaging.

Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition are interested in WGN America because it airs Underground, which tells the story about slaves risking their lives to claim their civil rights.

"WGN America is deeply committed to sharing positive portrayals of African Americans," Jackson said in a letter to Ergen. He said Dish is undervaluing the series the same way "the old south counted African Americas as three-fifths of a man."

He said losing Dish was troubling because series that show African-American characters as heroic and inspirational draw a diverse audience but don't get to the air very often and should be celebrated rather than put at risk as Dish is doing.

Jackson said he's looking forward to discussing the issue with Ergen.

In a statement Dish said it was proud of the diverse programming it offers. And it said it offered Tribune an extension, which was rejected, and offered binding arbitration as well.

"When we received the Rev. Jackson's letter on Monday, it was clear that he was only listening to the Tribune side of the story. Therefore, on Tuesday, the CEO of Dish sent a letter to Rev. Jackson and the CEO of Tribune, inviting them to lunch in Denver on Thursday, where it was our hope that, with all the facts on the table, there could be a sharing of ideas that would have allowed DISH and Tribune to reach an agreement that was fair to our subscribers and to Tribune. Neither Rev. Jackson nor the CEO of Tribune provided the courtesy of a response to our invitation,” Dish’s statement said.

"Having passed on an opportunity to get all the facts and having issued a press release after that meeting was scheduled to occur, we are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for DISH customers,” Dish said.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.