Maxine Waters, Other Lawmakers Press FCC for Diversity in Merger Reviews

Maxine Waters Congressional Black Caucus
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Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and 51 other lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are pressing the FCC to ensure that upcoming mergers include  “enforceable commitments” to boost media ownership, programming, advertising and other opportunities for women and minorities.

The letter cited the proposed mergers of Time Warner Cable and Comcast, and of AT&T and DirecTV, as well as “the imminent announcement” of Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile. The FCC’s merger reviews examine whether the transactions are in the public interest.

“In similar ‘mega-merger’ transactions in recent years, companies have attempted to demonstrate their good corporate citizenship by identifying past philanthropic donations they have made to various charitable organizations and promising additional such donations,” the letter states. “While we commend these companies for making such donations as good corporate stewards, such contributions should not supplant substantive plans to contract with minority and women-owned firms, recruit and retain qualified woman and minority senior level executives, and appoint diverse candidates to boards of directors.”

The letter cited figures showing that minorities owned just 2.2% of TV stations in 2012, despite comprising more than 39% of the population.

Waters, whose office on Friday released a copy of the letter, addressed to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, took aim at NBC’s diversity record when the Comcast-NBC Universal transaction was under review. She even held a hearing in Los Angeles on the proposed merger, and later expressed doubts that commitments to diversity and independent media ownership  were significant enough. However, in 2012, she did praise Comcast and NBC for the launch of new minority owned channels, including Magic Johnson’s Aspire and Sean Combs’ Revolt. She said then that it was “clear that Comcast has begun to act on the concerns that I, and the community of independent media professionals, raised throughout the course of the merger review.”

In a statement, Waters said that “while I was pleased with several of Comcast-NBC’s voluntary public interest commitments, more can be done to achieve our diversity objectives. As Comcast-NBC’s merger with Time Warner Cable is a first in a series of new mega-mergers before the FCC, it is incumbent to once again stress that a true commitment to diversity goes beyond philanthropic donations.”

The lawmakers outlined a series of steps to be addressed by merger applicants, including  recruitment of minorities and women to executive ranks and ownership opportunities in divestitures and spinoffs. They also are asking the FCC to examine how such transactions may boost diversity in a conglomerate’s use of financial and legal services and real estate professionals.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, noting a recent company report on diversity, said in a statement, “No other media and technology company in America has been more aggressive and more supportive of driving diversity and inclusion than Comcast. Our goal has been to be a model for diversity and inclusion, and we are proud to have been recognized widely for that commitment.” She added that their diversity practices would be extended to Time Warner Cable’s operations.