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WGAE Wants Comcast to Give $100 Million to Public TV

The Writers Guild of America East, which
represents TV and digital media news writers, among others, wants Comcast to
contribute $10 million a year to "public programming" as one of the
prices of government approval of the NBCU joint venture, though it would
still prefer that the government not approve it.

Comcast counters that it is up to Congress and noncoms to figure out funding and that it supports noncommercial stations via carriage commitments and programming partnerships.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius
Genachowski, Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney (she is heading
up the merger review at Justice) and key lawmakers, Union President
Michael Winship and Executive Director Lowell Peterson said that Comcast should have to kick
$100 million over the next 10 years into a fund for independently produced
news and public affairs programming administered through the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting "or another entity."

They argue that the merger of Comcast
and NBCU would further a trend in which diverse voices have been reduced, investigative
journalism has all but vanished, and coverage sensationalized.

One way to counteract that trend, they argue, and
have argued more generally before, is for consolidated media in general
to contribute to independent funding of public TV, and in this case
Comcast/NBCU in particular.

While the proposal is to give the money to public
TV, Peterson told B&C that they
were open to the idea of Comcast or NBCU participating in creating the

Comcast  has already pledged to add 10 new independent networks and in its
initial public interest statement
said it would increase news and public
affairs programming (by 1,000 hours) on NBC stations.
It has gained support of the Independent Film & TV Alliance
and the Directors Guild of America
for its pledges on independent programming.

WGAE represents news writers at PBS, as well
as some at Fox, CBS and ABC. It does not represent any NBC station writers,
according to Peterson."As an original and ongoing supporter and funder of C-SPAN, Comcast has had a long commitment to independent public affairs content," the company said in a statement. "Comcast has already pledged to make local news and other local programming available to consumers at more times and on more platforms than ever before and to facilitate and encourage the creation on new local programming and to add even more independent networks to our video systems.

"While this is a thoughtful proposal, it ignores the fact that, taken as a whole, the range of public interest commitments already made by the combined companies promises to deliver more diverse programming and more independently produced programming than any entity has ever committed to before. Many of these commitments were the product of direct conversations with independent programmers such as the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the leadership of diverse communities, as well as commitments the companies volunteered on the day they announced their transaction.

"It is up to the Congress and the public broadcasting community to determine the appropriate ways to fund public broadcasting to meet its mission. Comcast continues to support public broadcasting through its carriage commitments, worked out with public broadcasters during the digital transition, and through various creative programs and partnerships."