Latest protester of Comcast - NBC deal plays race card and has ex-FCC chairman on board

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A recently formed advocacy group has some pretty harsh words for cable giant Comcast Corp. and has hired a former FCC chairman as its counsel.

‘For decades Comcast has shut the door to African American ownership of cable channels,’ said Stanley E. Washington, president and chief executive of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media. He even charged Comcast investors with ‘supporting apartheid right here in America.’

The coalition, which appears to be a relatively new group, says its mission is to ‘protect and increase African American owned media’ and asked the Federal Communications Commission to require that Comcast allocate ‘a minimum of 25 channels to African-American owned media companies’ as a condition to approving its deal to take control of NBC Universal.

Asked whether Comcast’s decision to invest in TV One, a black-owned cable network that debuted in January 2004 and is available in about 50 million homes, throws cold water on his charges against the cable company, Washington said Comcast forced ‘TV One to give up equity in order to be carried.’ Washington added that since TV One is a unit of Radio One, a publicly traded company, it is ‘ultimately not majority owned by African Americans.’


Alfred Liggins, the chief executive of Radio One and chairman of TV One, takes issue with that. In an interview, Liggins, who is black, noted that he and his mother -- Cathy Hughes -- control 90% of the voting stock of Radio One. ‘This is about as black a company as you can be, whether it is public or not.’

Liggins, who said he was not familiar with the new media coalition criticizing the deal, dismissed the idea that Comcast forced him to sell a stake in TV One. ‘Absolutely not ... we went in and offered that,’ he said, adding that ‘Comcast saw the void in black programming that wasn’t focused on hip-hop culture.’

As for whether Comcast should set aside a certain percentage of its channels for minority-owned companies, Liggins is not a fan. ‘Everybody has to come to the table and pitch their idea and the merits should determine if these services get carried ... black people need more quality TV, not just more channels.’

In a statement, Comcast said it ‘distributes a variety of minority- and/or independently-owned channels.’

Interestingly, providing legal advice to the coalition is former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

A Republican who served as chairman of the regulatory agency under President George W. Bush, Martin is now with the Washington law firm Patton Boggs and counts among his clients several groups and companies opposed to or concerned about the Comcast-NBC Universal deal. Besides the black media owners coalition, Martin is working with Communications Workers of America and Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg TV, which has expressed concerns about Comcast giving CNBC preferential treatment once the NBC deal is closed.

While there is no shortage of groups opposed to or worried about the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, that a former FCC chairman has taken such a strong role with groups opposing the cable company seems noteworthy. Of course, when he was at the FCC Martin was hardly known as a friend to cable as he made many efforts -- most unsuccessful -- to put new regulations on the industry.

Martin did not respond to requests for comment regarding the black media owners coalition’s fiery rhetoric about Comcast.

For more on Kevin Martin’s work against the Comcast-NBC Universal deal, please see our report in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times.

-- Joe Flint

Photos, from top: Former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin; Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins. Credits, from top: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press; Radio One.