By Frederick H. Lowe
Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc., which are seeking the Federal Communications Commission’s permission to merge, generally have refused to do business with media companies that are 100 percent black-owned, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles.
Instead, Comcast and Time Warner have signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with non- media civil rights individuals and groups including, Rev. Al Sharpton, Sharpton’s National Action Network, the NAACP and the National Urban League and Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who is now a highly paid Comcast executive, the lawsuit alleges.
The MOUs and payments by Philadelphia-based Comcast and Time Warner, a Delaware company, are designed to remove any African-American opposition to the $45.2 billion merger that was announced on Feb. 13, 2014, charge the National Association of African-Owned Media (NAAAOM) and Entertainment Studios Networks Inc. Both companies, which are based in Los Angeles, are seeking more than $20 billion in compensatory, general and special damages.
“The MOUs are a sham, undertaken to whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices. Comcast uses the MOUs to perpetuate discrimination against 100% African American-owned media in contracting for channel carriage, which concerns broadcasting and re-broadcasting programs, and advertising,” the lawsuit charges.”Comcast has discriminated, and is discriminating, against Entertainment Studios on account of race, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. ”
The 71-page lawsuit notes that the only 100% African American-owned channel Comcast has agreed to broadcast is the Africa Channel, but the channel has limited distribution.
Entertainment Studios is a television-production company founded in 1993 by Byron Allen, a former comedian and actor. NAAAOM works to obtain contracts for African-American-owned media companies. Entertainment Studios programs include “Justice for All,” “America’s Court,” ” Comedy.TV,” “Cars TV” and “The First Family.”
The Federal Communications Commission, which will either give a thumbs up or down to the planned merger, announced on Friday that it will delay its decision until possibly next month. The proposed merger faces strong opposition by a number of groups, but is rarely discussed by African Americans.
If combined with Time Warner, Comcast would become the largest pay-television distributor in the country with nearly one-third of television homes, the lawsuit alleges.
“African Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and represent more than $1 trillion in consumer spending. Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable profit greatly by providing television service to African Americans,” the lawsuit alleges.
But when it comes to doing business with African American-owned firms, it is another story.
“Comcast and Time Warner Cable collectively spend approximately $25 billion annually for the licensing of pay-television channels and advertising on their products and services ($20 billion licensing and $5 billion advertising), yet 100% African American-owned media receive $3 million per year,” the lawsuit alleges.
“We are not trying to block the merger. That’s the FCC’s decision. We are seeking monetary relief,” Skip Miller, spokesperson for Entertainment Studios and the National Association of African-owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, told NorthStar News Today. com and BlackmansStreetToday.com.