As a congressional committee holds a Los Angeles hearing today devoted largely to the impact of the Comcast and NBC Universal transaction on diversity, the companies are unveiling a new series of public interest commitments designed to boost minority representation on and off screen.
Comcast, which already had committed to adding two independently owned and operated cable networks to its systems for each of the next three years, is pledging that at least half of them will have substantial ownership by minorities. NBC Universal also says that it has committed to a major effort to identify minority buyers for Los Angeles Spanish-language station KWHY-TV, which it is divesting from its portfolio.
Among other commitments, the companies also say they will establish four external “Diversity Advisory Councils,” representative of African-American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander and other communities, that will meet at least two times per year with Comcast and NBC Universal execs, including an annual meeting with Comcast’s chairman and chief executive officer. Comcast will appoint up to nine members to each advisory council, with input from national minority leadership organizations, and will develop a strategic plan related to diversity, with benchmark studies updated annually.
The two companies’ new commitments come after some criticism over their records in hiring and minority representation, in particular from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. At a congressional hearing in February, she chided NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker for a lack of NBC shows aimed at African-American audiences. In a letter to the FCC, she cited low marks that the companies have received by the National Hispanic Media Coalition in the hiring of Latinos in their executive ranks.
She pushed for today’s House Judiciary Committee field hearing at the California Science Center, where representatives from a number of groups including the Hispanic Media Coalition, the National Coalition of African-American Owned Media and the National Assn. of Latino Independent Producers are expected to testify. A number of watchdog orgs have long been critical of all networks, with the NAACP releasing a report in 2008 showing what it called a “serious shortage of minority faces in primetime,” although they did report gains in reality TV.
For their part, NBC U and Comcast released a letter from entrepreneur Magic Johnson in support of the transaction, in which the basketball legend says that NBC U’s commitment to diversity “is long-term and real” and that it is “one of the few companies where I’ve witnessed a CEO who makes diversity and inclusion one of his company’s five business imperatives.”
Representing the network at today’s hearing will be Paula Madison, its executive vice president of diversity. Also expected is Alfred Liggins, the president and CEO of Radio One, which is in partnership with Comcast in the African-American oriented cable channel TV One.