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Comcast accused of violating NBCU deal term

Comcast has been accused of reneging on a key term of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011, which required the broadcast, cable and telecoms group to launch new diversity-focused channels.

Major American syndication prodco Entertainment Studios and The National Association of African American-Owned Media on Friday filed a petition with US media regulator the Federal Communications Commission, which called into question Comcast’s actions.

The petition claims Comcast has failed to honour a commitment to create or finance African American-owned cable channels to its suite within eight years, a term required in a Memorandum of Understanding that preceded the FCC greenlighting the controversial NBCU takeover.

Comcast has backed the launch of four minority-owned channels since 2011, including Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Revolt and Magic Johnson’s Aspire. It had told the FCC it would launch a total of ten such channels, with four majority-owned by African Americans.

Entertainment Studios, which is led by Byron Allen, and NAAAOM want the FCC to undertake “a detailed, critical investigation into Comcast’s claims of compliance and, on the basis of its findings, impose on Comcast penalties commensurate with the seriousness of its misconduct”.

The petition also singled out FCC commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn, claiming she should be “leading the charge in this effort”. Clynburn had said at the time she would be “watching closely” with a “large megaphone” in her hand to ensure compliance.

Entertainment Studios and NAAAOM claimed the FCC has “utterly failed” to investigate Comcast’s action and to enforce conditions of the Comcast-NBCU merger.

“The time has come for the FCC and President Obama to correct this empty MOU charade, investigate the ownership and management structures of networks launched under the MOU, and advance economic inclusion for 100% African American-owned media,” said Entertainment Studios chief executive and chairman Allen.

“One-hundred-per-cent African American-owned media companies must be allowed to participate in a significant way by being included in the US$70 billion spent annually on programming,” Allen said. “I am committed to the end of time to stop these corporate racist atrocities.”

Last year, Allen filed a US$20 million racial discrimination case against Comcast. This was first dismissed, but has since been reopened.

“Since NAAAOM’s frivolous lawsuit has gone nowhere, it is now trying the same string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations before the FCC,” Comcast said in a statement. “Just as a court has already once dismissed their court case having found no plausible claim for relief, we believe this complaint is also completely without merit and will defend vigorously ourselves.”

Comcast told the FCC it had launched more than 20 independent channels in the past five years, and is reviewing plans for two more Hispanic American-owned networks that would launch by January 28 next year.