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Comcast merger angers minorities

Juliana D. Norwood | 6/16/2010, 5 p.m.

At a Congressional field hearing recently, the public pressed the House Judiciary Committee to demand that Comcast guarantee expanded opportunities for minority-backed cable services, television shows, and films in exchange for approval of its proposed deal to take control of NBC Universal.

"It's not going to happen without conditions," said Alex Nogales, the president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

The Greenlining Institute, which strives to empower communities of color through civil rights and anti-redlining activities, is one of the organizations that testified in opposition to the merger. The institute believes that the merger will have a negative impact on jobs and ethnic media programming and ownership.
Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman Steve Cohen, Congresswoman Judy Chu and Congressman Louis Gohmert made up the committee that expressed their concerns and questions about the proposed merger.

Some African American interest groups are in support of the merger due to Comcast's reputation of promoting diversity through their various employment and business practices and being a committed community partner in the markets they serve.

"Our membership is often skeptical of horizontal mergers. However, given Comcast's track record on diversity matters, the fact that this joint venture is nearly wholly vertical, and the prospective benefits for consumers generated by the joint venture, I support this joint venture and hope that the FCC will approve it without delay," wrote the Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network.

Congresswoman Waters, however, is not convinced that what the cable conglomerate has contributed thus far is evidence that the merger will be in favor of the minority community.

"Assessing how committed Comcast and NBC are to diversity goes beyond examining their contributions, donations or community service projects to aid nonprofit, community and church groups. While those initiatives are important, today's hearing was about understanding how diversity, programming, management, ownership and consumer prices could be impacted by a merger of this size. In addition, we must evaluate whether the merger of the nation's largest cable and Internet company with one of the nation's major network news and content providers is anti-competitive, unfairly dominating the market and thereby squeezing out alternative outlets for diverse voices and cultures," Congresswoman Waters said.

Representatives from Hip Hop on Demand; National Coalition of African American Owned Media; Communications Workers of America; de Passe Jones Entertainment; University of California, Los Angeles; National Association of Latino Independent Producers; Tower of Babel LLC; Radio One; Santa Clara University School of Law; and NBC Universal testified before the committee. No representative from Comcast was willing to testify.

Congresswoman Waters and the members of the Judiciary Committee have successfully rallied the support of Federal Communications Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps, who will hold more hearings across the country beginning in early July in Chicago.

"American consumers need to have all their questions answered, as we prepare for one of the largest media mergers in this country's history. More events like this are necessary so that we all understand the merger's impact on diversity and consumer costs," said Congresswoman Waters.