FCC Denies Petition to Delay Comcast/NBCU Merger Review

Commission says there will be plenty of chances to raise diversity issues
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The FCC has denied a petition to stay its consideration of
the Comcast/NBCU merger and conduct a preliminary inquiry, including public
hearings, into the "diversity content implications" of the deal for
Asian Americans and other minorities.

In rejecting the request by the Mabuhay
Alliance
, a "Pan-Asian" group that has raised questions about
media content diversity in the past, the FCC said there would be plenty of
opportunity to raise those issues in the course of its review.

"We find no reason to depart from the procedure the
Commission has established for reviewing the proposed transaction, and we
therefore deny the petition," the FCC said in a brief
(less-than-two-pages) order released Monday (Apr. 5).

Mabuhay had also asked that a "special master" be
appointed to get information from both companies on five years' worth of data
on programs that reference Asian Americans employed in top positions by the
companies and philanthropic investments in the Asian American community.

The FCC also rejected that request, saying that if the
commission wants to, it can gather that data itself "through usual
discovery procedures, if it so chooses." That is the argument that Comcast
and NBC had made in asking the FCC to deny the petition.

The FCC on March 18 released its notice seeking public
comment on the proposed $30 billion joint venture.

Mabuhay had complained that "the combined 749 page
[Comcast/NBCU deal] application and appendix contain no references to America's
15 million Asian Americans or any references as to their past treatment or
future treatment by Comcast and NBCU," the alliance said in a March 15
filing opposing the deal as currently constituted. But they suggested there was
a way to make them happier.

"As a condition for allowing this proceeding to
continue," they said, "We formally request that the FCC order Comcast
to revise its 145-page application and set forth specific and unique benefits
this acquisition will have for 15 million Asian Americans, including those most
ignored, such as Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans, Filipino Americans,
Samoans, Hmong, Thais, Cambodians and Indonesians."

But they were looking for bucks as well as benefits. Other
items on their deal wish list include getting Comcast to pony up $1 billion to
the FCC for a "diversity fund" to promote minority media and create a
paid 11-member Asian American Advisory Board.

At the time, a Comcast spokesperson said that the company
has been in continuing discussions regarding the Comcast-NBCU joint venture
with the leadership of multiple national diversity organizations including
the Asian American Justice
Center.

For its Comcast/NBCU vetting, the FCC at press time was on
day 18 of what is an informal 180-day shot clock for completing merger reviews.
But the deadline is not official and many reviews have far exceeded that under
previous chairmen. The Comcast/NBCU review is widely expected to take close to
a year to complete. The Justice Department is holding a separate antitrust
review of the deal, which historically would precede the FCC decision, though
that is not a hard-and-fast rule, either.

"We hope this doesn't mean the FCC isn't planning to hold public hearings on one of the biggest media mergers in history," said Liz Rose, communications director for Free Press.

The FCC merger-review process does not historically include public hearings on the deals. Rather, it collects public written comment and generally leaves the hearings to Congress. In fact, the FCC has made a point in this proceeding of cautioning the public and interested parties to make all their issues and concerns a part of their initial written comments.

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