Washington

Comcast/NBCU Deal: Diversity Divide

New pledges get plaudits, but critics seek merger block 6/14/2010 09:07:00 AM Eastern

Groups to FCC: Deny Tribune

Look for nonprofit public-interest law firm Media Access Project to file a petition at the FCC to deny Tribune’s request for renewals of seven waivers in six markets as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan, according to Andrew Schwartzman, MAP’s senior VP and policy director.

Schwartzman says MAP will be filing a petition on June 14 to deny the waivers of the FCC’s newspaper/ broadcast cross-ownership rule that Tribune will need to transfer its station licenses to the new Tribune Co. as part of its bankruptcy plan. The new company will be controlled by Tribune’s creditors, which need the FCC’s OK to hold the station licenses.

MAP will be filing on behalf of Free Press, Consumer Federation of America and others, Schwartzman says. He argues that the Tribune stations that would require waivers should, instead, be sold to comply with FCC rules.
John Eggerton

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.”

E-mail comments to jeggerton@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @eggerton

Groups to FCC: Deny Tribune

Look for nonprofit public-interest law firm Media Access Project to file a petition at the FCC to deny Tribune’s request for renewals of seven waivers in six markets as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan, according to Andrew Schwartzman, MAP’s senior VP and policy director.

Schwartzman says MAP will be filing a petition on June 14 to deny the waivers of the FCC’s newspaper/ broadcast cross-ownership rule that Tribune will need to transfer its station licenses to the new Tribune Co. as part of its bankruptcy plan. The new company will be controlled by Tribune’s creditors, which need the FCC’s OK to hold the station licenses.

MAP will be filing on behalf of Free Press, Consumer Federation of America and others, Schwartzman says. He argues that the Tribune stations that would require waivers should, instead, be sold to comply with FCC rules.
John Eggerton

 

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