Comcast and NBC's Real Diversity Issues

At last month's house hearing on the proposed Comcast-NBC takeover,
execs from both companies shamefully acknowledged their diversity
problems. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts sheepishly divulged that his
company's board of directors includes only one woman and one person of
color, and NBC's Jeff Zucker confessed that the network has no Black

Watch the video:

Seeing Roberts and Zucker sweat under heavy fire from Congress got us
wondering: What else should we be asking about these companies' woeful
commitment to diversity?

The merger would likely exacerbate existing structural flaws in the
media system; consolidation has historically been bad news for media
ownership diversity. Free Press has done
showing that as media markets consolidate, the likelihood
of media ownership by a woman or person of color decreases.

Media mergers have also proven bad for local and diverse programming.
In fact, when NBC bought Telemundo in 2001, the network pledged more local news. But a few years after the
merger was approved, NBC created cheap regional newscasts that phoned-in canned coverage, with an insert or two
of actual local news. Nine years later, we should ask, will this happen
again? How do we ensure that news coverage serving communities of color
won't be further cut? How can we ensure that it improves?

One thing we cannot do is accept these companies' promises that
they'll "do better." That's just lip service to win merger approval.
They'll renege as soon as the ink dries on the deal. Rather, we need to
begin asking for remedies that will change the structural status quo in
ways that benefit people of color and women as entrepreneurs, owners,
media professionals, and audiences and consumers. In other words,
getting NBC to feature more people of color as guests on its news
programs is a step in the right direction, but it is not as effective as
getting the company to commit to providing more hours of local Spanish
language news, or requiring Comcast to carry an independent cable
channel that's owned by a person of color.

But we'll never get to those changes if we don't start asking more
aggressive questions. Here's a start:

Why are Comcast's commitments regarding Telemundo so pathetic? As
part of its voluntary merger concessions, the company promised to add
Telemundo programming to Comcast's on-demand library -- but that merely
involved moving Telemundo re-runs to a cable platform. That's a way to
generate new (and expensive) cable subscriptions, but it does nothing to
enhance broadcast localism or program diversity for the underserved
Spanish language market.

Comcast also promised to create a new channel that will air
Telemundo's "library of programming." "Library" is industry code for -
yet again -- re-runs. Comcast has essentially promised to create a
Telenovela channel rather than invest in new programming or more local
news. Why won't Comcast invest in localism for Spanish language

And even while Roberts and Zucker sputtered on C-Span that they're
trying to improve diversity on multiple fronts, I haven't seen any move
to make this a true priority. For instance, Comcast has committed to
adding independent channels to its post-merger lineup, but why hasn't it
committed to making sure any of the channels are owned by women or
people of color?

When put under the magnifying glass, Roberts and Zucker appeared to
be embarrassed about their companies' diversity track records, but was
that enough to motivate a change? Probably not. If we want a system that
gives us local news, diverse programming for diverse audiences and
minority media ownership, we have to change media ownership in this
country - and it can begin with refusing to let these two companies merge.

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