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Comcast-NBC merger raises questions

Robin Hamilton

Over the past several months, the much talked about merger between Comcast and NBC has some industry insiders boasting more freedom for the average viewer.

But with the deal on the brink of completion, critics say the merger could become a potentially exclusive monopoly that may continue to shut out diverse voices.

As a cable provider acquiring a network, Comcast has tremendous influence over what goes over the airwaves, and online.

How they distribute the content will determine what channels are on a particular package that a consumer purchases. Latoya Peterson, a national commentator and editor of the blog “Racialious,” says this is just one of the many problems with this deal.  “When they rearrange channel line-ups, they pull things in and out of the line-up, so I can’t justify increasing my rate for a specific channel. It means I won’t get it anymore, and then I won’t watch anymore.”  

That concern has been shared by a number of minority groups who have demanded to see some type of agreement with Comcast guaranteeing multi-cultural views on its media landscape.  

Most recently, several organizations, including the NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network released a statement, celebrating an agreement that would have Comcast commit to a diversity initiative.

The proposal would place more people of color behind and in front of the camera, as well as in management, and would carry four channels that are minority owned.

AJ Christian, a media critic, blogger, professor and doctoral student at University of Pennsylvania, is wary about celebrating too much.

“When the headline came out that Comcast was going to add on minority networks as a carrot for the merger, I thought it was interesting. But I thought it was more about PR.”

He adds, “It makes it much harder for people with less resources to get distribution.”

Payne Brown, Comcast vice president of strategic initiatives, said the company is eager to set a new standard within the media industry.  

“Comcast has had a long and mutually respectful relationship with these organizations and their leadership for many years,” Brown said in the statement. “What [has] resulted [is] a commitment on the part of all who attended to diligently work toward making the combined Comcast/NBCU an industry leader in diversity and a model twenty first century company.”

Comcast pointed out that they are spending $20 million to invest in minority programming. Critics are unmoved. Given that the merger is a $13.75 billion deal, critics argue that a $20 million investment is a pittance.  

“If you want a company to change, make sure they are committing real dollars behind it,” Peterson said. “Otherwise, they are not committed to real change.”

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