The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s civil rights group has purchased shares in five entertainment companies this week as part of a campaign against what he regards as substantial race and sex discrimination in the music industry.
“We’ve done this so that we can monitor these companies’ diversity programs, if any, and to ensure they’re inclusive of women and all minorities at all levels,” Axel Adams, deputy director for Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said Wednesday.
Rainbow/PUSH purchased about $1,000 worth of stock in each of five multinational entertainment conglomerates that own major record companies — Time Warner Inc., Seagram Co. Ltd., EMI Group Plc, Sony Corp. and Polygram NV, Adams said.
The investments will enable Jackson and his associates to attend shareholder meetings and obtain information relating to the record companies, Adams said.
“This will give us a presence at stockholder meetings,” he said.
The investments follow a meeting on Nov. 11 between Jackson and Polygram amid an uproar over a racial remark made by a top Polygram executive.
During an October deposition in a civil proceeding, Eric Kronfeld, president and chief operating officer of Polygram’s domestic music division, suggested that if record companies were barred from hiring people with criminal records, no blacks would be working in the music industry.
Dutch-owned Polygram has removed Kronfeld from its international board and replaced him with Clarence Avant, a black executive at Polygram’s Motown Records division.
The record conglomerate also apologized for Kronfeld’s statements, which it described as “appalling” after the meeting with Jackson.
“Eric Kronfeld made a statement with which we strongly disagree,” Polygram chairman Alain Levy said in a statement. “He apologized for that statement, and as he explained at the time, that statement doesn’t reflect his views. We believe that to be the case.
“However, it cannot erase the statement, which on the face of it is appalling and certainly does not reflect Polygram’s views, my personal views or to my knowledge any other executive views of Polygram.
“We apologize for any offense this remark caused. Polygram is totally committed to a culturally diverse staff repertoire and roster of talent and will continue to take whatever action is necessary to protect these principles,” Levy said.
Black recording artists and producers generate billions of dollars each year and represent one of the major engines currently fueling the music industry.
Nevertheless, Jackson and other critics say advancement by women and people of color into high-level posts in the music business is rare.
Seagram’s Universal Music, Sony, EMI and Warner had no immediate comment.
Record industry consultant Thomas White said the entertainment industry is the most egalitarian of industries and called Jackson’s investments a strategy to develop and exploit his point of view.
“I think the arts is a segment of society which is the most colorblind, the most equal opportunity and the most responsive to people’s inherent ability than any other aspect of society,” he said.
“In general, you could always find an isolated example of abuse of power,” he said.