Comcast-NBC deal gets backing of NAACP and other civil rights groups
Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal have won support of their proposed merger from three major civil rights organizations.
In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, the heads of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and Al Sharpton's National Action Network said they have reached an agreement with Comcast Corp. on several key issues including program diversity and hiring practices.
"Comcast and NBCU have committed to continuous improvement in promoting employment and advancement opportunities for African Americans and other minorities," the heads of three groups told FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The letter comes at a crucial time as Comcast and NBC are trying to put the finishing touches on regulatory approval of their merger. The deal, which would combine Comcast's cable and broadband operations with NBC Universal's vast programming holdings, has worried some lawmakers and media watchdogs. Both the FCC and Justice Department are reviewing the deal, which is expected to be approved with conditions that will seek to prevent Comcast from flexing too much muscle on the TV screen and the Internet.
Comcast has committed to adding four new cable networks either owned or operated by African Americans as well as boosting such programming in urban markets where the company has a large presence. NBC Universal, the groups said, have agreed to "increasing the participation of minorities in its news and public affairs programming and enhancing opportunities for minorities within its writing staff."
Details of the agreement are in a memorandum of understanding Comcast filed with the FCC. In it, the company says it will create with the organizations an African American Advisory Council that will meet at least twice a year and that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts will attend at least one of those meetings. Comcast will also pick up the travel tab for the meetings.
Both companies also said they would launch initiatives to do more business with African American vendors. The FCC filing said in 2009 that Comcast spent about $84 million while NBC spent $34 million.
Regarding its own programming, Comcast said it and NBC Universal would remain committed to promoting diversity in front and behind the camera. It named several shows that featured diverse casts. One of the programs it cited, alas, was the recently pulled "Undercovers," which portrayed an African American couple. Interestingly, neither actor in that show was American.
-- Joe Flint