Comcast Cable Tosses Crumbs to (Celebrity) Minority Owners
Continued from previous page
So why did civil rights groups support a big bad leap in the wrong direction? As I mentioned, they cut a deal. Or rather, some of them did. Reported saltily by Eric Deggens at the Tampa Bay Times, the NAACP, the National Urban League and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network supported the Comcast/NBC Universal merger in return for corporate “diversity-boosting” measures, among them, eight new independently owned and operated networks offering substantial participation by minorities, a $20 million venture capital fund for minority entrepreneurs in digital media, the creation of Diversity Advisory Councils and the increase of minority participation in news and public affairs programming.
Just in case you were wondering, Al Sharpton’s gig on MSNBC as host of his own nightly show has absolutely nothing to do with this. Nothing. Not a thing. (Neither did the award the National Action Network gave to Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, shortly before he was hired.)
Did women’s groups even try for such a deal? As far as I can uncover, they did not. Carol Jenkins, former director of the Women’s Media Center, doubts there was any comparable negotiation between Comcast and the heads of women’s groups. The current director of the Center, Julie Burton, knows of none. Gloria Steinem doesn’t know about it. Sadly it’s simply the case that, Planned Parenthood aside, there’s no women’s organization with the heft of the NAACP, and none that makes media power through ownership its issue. (There are plenty that deal with sexism, bigotry and lack of representation—but without power, you’re left with pleading.)
That’s why we need government. Oh I forgot. Affirmative Action is unconstitutional. (Even if the Fourteenth Amendment does mention a little something about “equal protection.”) If it wasn’t on the rocks already, the Supreme Court may be about to drive a stake through it.
What we’re left with is a win courtesy of corporate concession. To their credit, winning concessions from those in power is part of what civil rights groups are supposed to do. In a time of tight credit, there will be new venture capital money for minority media entrepreneurs and for a while there will be jobs at those new channels, including jobs for “minorities.” That’s all good. On the other hand, Coombs is already a music mogul; Johnson already owns a radio network. As Deggens wrote this week, Will channels for non-celebrities come next? There’s no guarantee of that. Worse, with this one corporate crumb, Comcast bought off a whole lot of public pressure that could have burnt beneath the FCC until they did what they’re supposed to which is regulate—not in Puffy’s but in the public interest .
It’s a huge blow to women’s rights and the broad tent of civil rights that—if the coverage of this deal is any indication—“diversity” as a concept has been shrunken to refer only to race. Carol Jenkins, who broke into TV thanks to movement pressure and lawsuits brought by the government against the networks, says, “It’s as true as it ever was, people have to be reminded that women are underrepresented and underserved.”
The majority of the population with nothing like a majority of media power, women do have a special page on the Comcast site—and to show how much they care, it’s pink. And it’s not impossible for women to find well paying jobs in the company. Take former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker. Just four months after she voted, along with three of the agency’s other FCC commissioners, to approve Comcast’s acquisition of NBC, Comcast hired her. That puts a whole new spin on affirmative action. And a channel that glues toddlers to TV sets? Women—and child minders everywhere—have got to be happy about that, right?