News Corp. Forms Diversity Council After Cartoon

News Corp. has agreed to form an external diversity council after meeting with civil rights groups about a New York Post cartoon that critics said likened President Barack Obama to a dead chimpanzee.

The company will form a "diversity community council" in New York City that will meet with senior company executives twice a year, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said Wednesday. It also will include a statement of commitment to diversity in its annual report.

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch published an apology in the Post soon after the cartoon appeared in February, but pressure for further action continued.

Jealous called the cartoon an "invitation for assassination" and urged a boycott of the paper and the firing of the editor and cartoonist. The Rev. Al Sharpton asked the Federal Communications Commission to review policies allowing News Corp. to control multiple media outlets in the same market.

Representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sharpton's National Action Network, the National Urban League and 100 Black Men of America met with News Corp. executives on May 19.

Those groups will be represented on the new committee, said News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner. The membership was still being finalized, but Horner said it would also include organizations such as the Hispanic Federation, Alianza Dominicana and the New York Gauchos, which offers after-school programs and is best known for its top-flight youth basketball teams. Sharpton, a longtime adversary of the, spokesman Stephen Rea said the company was already working with a key ingredient of the swine flu vaccine to see how quickly doses could be produced. Other major pharmaceuticals like Sanofi Pasteur have also been working on a swine flu vaccine since WHO gave them a "seed stock" of the virus last month created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rea said it could take up to six months before large amounts of a swine flu vaccine are available. At the moment, GlaxoSmithKline is still making regular flu vaccine, which it expects to be completed by July.

After that, Rea said GlaxoSmithKline could speed up its swine flu vaccine production if a pandemic is declared. Once that announcement is made, the company would be obliged to fulfill contracts it signed with countries including Britain, Belgium and France, promising to provide a pandemic vaccine as soon as possible.

If a global outbreak is announced, countries would likely activate their own pandemic preparedness plans if they haven't already. That could mean devoting more money to health services or imposing measures like quarantines, school closures, travel bans and trade restrictions - some of which WHO opposes.

According to WHO's own pandemic criteria, a global outbreak means a new flu virus is spreading in at least two world regions.

With thousands of cases in North America and hundreds in Japan, Australia and Europe, many experts say that threshold has already been reached, but the U.N. agency has held off on making the pandemic call for political reasons.

"If you look at the science, we were at phase 6 weeks demic declaration would mean little in terms of how countries are responding to the outbreak.

"The writing has been on the wall for weeks," said Chris Smith, a flu virologist at Cambridge University, adding he didn't know why WHO had waited so long to declare a pandemic. "WHO probably doesn't want people to panic, but the virus is now unstoppable."


AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng reported from London, Frank Jordans reported from Geneva.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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