Originally posted at Yahoo! Movies.
Even though the FCC hasn’t yet ruled on the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, one group has already filed a lawsuit claiming at least $20 billion in damages from the way the two giants allegedly discriminate against black-owned media.
The complaint, filed in California on Friday, comes from the National Association of African-American Owned Media, which also filed a similar suit against AT&T and DirecTV in December.
This time, the plaintiff is not only targeting both Comcast and TWC on the verge of what would be the largest pay television distributor in the United States, but also various African-American advocacy groups and MSNBC host Al Sharpton for allegedly facilitating discrimination.
Comcast is one of the biggest companies with a chief diversity officer and its practices have been lauded by many including Black Enterprise magazine, which recently named it as one of the 40 best companies for diversity. The lawsuit figures to face many hurdles from the sufficiency of its allegations to possibly the First Amendment, but for now, it presents the larger portrait of media company that isn’t carrying many fully-owned black channels and the dangers of allowing it to grow bigger.
According to the lawsuit, Comcast and TWC “collectively spend approximately $25 billion annually for the licensing of pay-television channels and advertising of their products and services, yet 100% African American–owned media receives less than $3 million per year.”
At the time of Comcast’s 2010 acquisition of NBCUniversal, Comcast entered into memoranda of understanding with the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, but the lawsuit says the voluntary diversity agreements are “a sham, undertaken to whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices.”
The plaintiff objects that the only fully owned black-channel picked up by Comcast is the Africa Channel, and that entity is owned by former Comcast/NBCU exec Paula Madison, who “was directly involved in putting together the sham MOUs and obtaining government approval for the Comcast acquisition of NBC Universal, thus creating a serious conflict of interest.”
Other black channels are said to be “window dressing,” with black celebrities as “fronts” when they are “white-owned businesses” that are run by friends or family of Comcast executives.
The lawsuit goes on to say that Comcast made large cash “donations” to obtain support for its acquisition. The money includes $3.8 million to Sharpton and his National Action Network. The money, it’s charged, was meant to pay Sharpton to endorse the NBCU deal and divert attention away from discrimination. As for Sharpton’s MSNBC gig, the complaint says, “Despite the notoriously low ratings that Sharpton’s show generates, Comcast has allowed Sharpton to maintain his hosting position for more than three years in exchange for Sharpton’s continued public support for Comcast on issues of diversity.”
As for support to the theory of discrimination in contracting, the lawsuit says Comcast has a “Jim Crow” process with respect to licensing black-owned channels, and that one Comcast exec stated, “We’re not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons,” referring to the founder of Black Entertainment Television.
The NAAAOM is suing along with Entertainment Studios Networks, which was founded by Byron Allen and now has a television operation with stations like “Justice Central” that reach 7.5 million consumers through deals with smaller pay TV distributors.
Representing the plaintiffs are Louis “Skip” Miller at Miller Barondess. The attorney has been a mainstay for many years on The Hollywood Reporter’s list of the 100 most powerful lawyers in the entertainment industry. Besides representing clients including Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, Elton John and Bob Dylan, he also defended the city of Los Angeles in the Rodney King civil rights case.
We’ve reached out to Comcast and the National Action Network for comment.
Read more at at Yahoo! Movies.
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