The NAACP, National Urban League and Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network are at the center of a lawsuit, alleging a conspiracy with cable companies Comcast and Time Warner to overlook a lack of diversity at these companies in exchange for millions of dollars in donations.
According to the Washington Post, “The complaint alleges that Comcast gave large donations to Sharpton, the NAACP and other civil rights groups to make it appear that the cable company was promoting diversity, even while it was failing to follow through on a promise to do so.”
The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 20 in a Los Angeles federal court by Entertainment Studios. The television company was founded by black producer and comedian Byron Allen and the National Association of African-American Owned Media (NAAAOM).
The complaint states that Comcast discriminates against black channels, and agreements to distribute content on black channels are inferior to those offered to white-owned companies. It also states the cable giant only spends $3 million out of $15 billion on advertising and channel carriage of black-owned programs.
Allen said in a phone interview that Comcast repeatedly refused to carry his programs and that of several other black TV executives. He was allegedly told by a Comcast executive that the company was “not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons,” referring to the former owner of Black Entertainment Television, who sold his company to Viacom for $3 billion.
In 2010 civil rights groups signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Comcast to win approval for its merger with NBC Universal. The agreement promised 10 new minority-owned and operated networks, 4 of which would be run by African Americans. Six months after that merger was approved, Sharpton was given a job as the host of MSNBCs “PoliticsNation” and a $140,000 donation to his nonprofit, according to the Daily Beast.
Today, according to the complaint, Comcast only runs one minority-owned channel, Africa Network, and even that is run by a former Comcast executive. The others, although featuring African American content, are white-owned and controlled.
Sharpton and Comcast have dismissed the allegations as “frivolous.” A statement by Sharpton’s network said: “We would gladly defend our relationship with any company as well as to state on the record why we found these discriminatory accusations made by said party to be less than credible and beneath the standards that we engage in.”
Allen’s network carries 8 channels and 36 shows on Verizon, AT&T and RCN. FCC regulators are currently mulling over a $45-billion merger deal between Comcast and TWC. If approved, the deal would give the companies a combined 30% market share of the cable business. A decision is expected this quarter.