Congressional panel examines how Comcast-NBC merger would affect diversity

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A Congressional panel heard comments today in L.A. about the effect a proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal might have upon media diversity — on screen, among writers and producers, and in the board rooms.

Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters serves on the U.S. House Judiciary and Financial Services committees. She fought to make sure the federal government extended the comment period on the $28 billion venture.

"While I’m not opposed to this merger necessarily, I have long maintained that the Comcast-NBC merger raises serious questions and should not be rushed through an expedited process," Waters explained during her opening statement. She sat next to Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan.

The first of about a dozen people to testify in front of the committee was NBC Universal’s head of diversity, Paula Madison. She announced new initiatives her company and Comcast are preparing in case their $28 billion merger goes through: plans for four minority advisory councils, programs to groom more people of color for senior management and division head positions, and the launch of at least three new channels with a substantial minority ownership.

That isn't enough for Stanley Washington, president of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media.

"It’s crumbs and they know it’s crumbs," Washington said. "We find it unacceptable that none of the 250-plus channels that are offered on the Comcast platform are offered 100 percent and widely distributed on their nationwide platform."

Washington and other witnesses attacked Comcast’s and NBC’s record with minority media ventures.

But others who testified defended Comcast. Alfred Liggins co-owns and chairs the African American cable network, TV One. He told the committee that when he tried to launch the network eight years ago, most cable companies he approached about carrying it turned him down, but Comcast became a major partner.

"I think it’s significant that Comcast showed this commitment to diversity when its core business was in distribution rather than production of television," Liggins testified. "Now that they are joining forces with NBCU, they have committed in writing to do even more to promote diversity."

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