Diversity or Empty Promises?

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ComcastOne of the major complaints about media is that it is not inclusive. For the most part, media ownership is white, and the shows that are produced for television are made for and by whites. Non-whites have felt shut out of the industry for years, due to several reasons–one being the lack of capital to buy major media outlets. Comcast recently announced that it would commit at least $20 million to a fund for minority-owned media ventures.

But is it too little too late? Lauren DeLisa Coleman, the founder and owner of digital media and entertainment company Punch Media Group, thinks so. “[The deal is] not inclusive enough nor is $20 million sufficient for anything of that magnitude especially given their estimated $39 billion in buying power last year. And given that African-Americans reportedly contribute to 40% of the company’s earnings, the proposed “equity” is laughable.”

According to Comcast, however, the result will be more black shows on television and the cable company also will increase the number of independently-owned and -operated networks to its cable lineup. And of the 10 new channels Comcast promises to launch over the next eight years, at least four will be primarily owned by African-Americans. These developments come following the announcement of a Comcast-NBC Universal merger. NBC will be 51% owned by Comcast, 49% by GE. The joint venture would be worth a combined $37.25 billion.

It is a merger that spurred a testimony about the racial makeup of Comcast and NBC Uni. The hearing was held by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson even supplied written testimorny for the hearing, for which he demanded diversity be the priority in the merger agreement. Jackson said he wanted to see merged Comcast-NBC Uni spend 25% of all advertising, marketing and vendor dollars with minority-owned firms. He also called for training programs for minorities.

Comcast says the merger will include seven diversity initiatives involving training, internships, scholarships, mentoring, hiring, investing and programming. The company promised the merged entity would create a minimum of four “new linear programming services” in which African-American investors own majorities.

But Coleman remains skeptical. “Given their record on diversity, it seems that they are trying to throw a few bones in order to position the company in a better light with Congress as they seek approval for their merger,” she notes.