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Magic Johnson drives to the hoop in support of Comcast and NBC marriage

June 7, 2010 |  4:00 am

The Lakers aren't the only team Earvin "Magic" Johnson is rooting for. The former basketball star is also throwing his weight behind cable powerhouse Comcast's proposed $30-billion deal to take control of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal.

In a letter to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Johnson praised NBC Universal for its diversity efforts and said it would do "even more when it's teamed with Comcast." The Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Monday morning in Los Angeles to examine the effect that a combination of Comcast and NBC would have, not only on programming diversity on the screen, but behind the scenes as well. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has expressed concern about the records of both Comcast and NBC on this issue as well as on labor issues, and pushed hard to get a hearing held here.

MAGICJohnson, who was unable to testify in person at the hearing because of his son is graduating from high school today, said he took part in NBC Universal's first "Diversity and Inclusion Week," which the company held in mid-March. NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker has made it "crystal clear that cultivating diversity makes good business sense," Johnson wrote. Johnson, who operates a movie theater chain as well as more than 100 Starbucks franchises, said one of his food service companies is trying to get into business with NBC.

Besides Johnson's support, Comcast and NBC unveiled several initiatives they said would improve diversity both in terms of programming and in the operation of the merged entity. In a statement to be released in conjunction with the hearing, Comcast said it would expand on its earlier commitment to add two independently owned and operated cable networks to its systems for each of the next three years by guaranteeing that "at least half of the six networks to be added will be networks in which minorities have a substantial ownership interest." Comcast, which is the nation's largest cable operator with almost 25 million subscribers, also said it would "review the pricing and packaging of its minority-oriented programming."

The two companies said they would increase their efforts to have a diverse senior staff as well as create four diversity advisory councils aimed at African Americans, Latinos, Asians and "other diverse communities." NBC Universal and Comcast said they would seek to bolster minority programming on their channels and make greater contributions to institutions and philanthropic organizations that work in under-served communities.

Whether these gestures and Johnson's support and participation in NBC's recently created "Diversity and Inclusion Week" will ease the concerns of Waters and others or be seen as a cynical attempt to curry favor with lawmakers remains to be seen.

Expected to testify at the hearing are producer Suzanne de Passe, Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition and writer and producer Reggie Hudlin, a former senior executive at BET who was also an executive producer of Cartoon Network's "The Boondocks." There has been reports that former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is also going to testify. Martin has been working closely with the recently created National Coalition of African American Owned Media, which has been very critical of Comcast. As of Sunday though it was unclear if Martin was coming. Certainly having a former FCC Chairman express concerns about the deal and Comcast in particular could be damaging. Martin had a tense relationship with the cable industry during his reign at the FCC.

Among those appearing in support of Comcast is Alfred Liggins, the chief executive of TV One, which Comcast owns a stake in. NBC Universal television executive Paula Madison is also scheduled to testify.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Magic Johnson. Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

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