Jesse Jackson opines on Comcast merger

Calls for diversity to be priority at hearing in Chicago

Diversity took center stage again Thursday when the Comcast-NBC Universal road show stopped in Chicago to hear the opinions of witnesses like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who submitted his list of a dozen ideas the companies should consider before he might bless their union.

But Jackson was a no-show, so his written remarks had to suffice.

A merged Comcast-NBC Uni should spend 25% of all advertising, marketing and vendor dollars with minority-owned firms, Jackson said. He called for training programs for minorities and for the company to pluck new hires from "multicultural career fairs." And mentoring programs should encourage students to aspire to work in telecommunications.

"Diversity should be a top-down priority in every aspect of the merger," Jackson said in his prepared remarks.

The Chicago field hearing took up where the one last month in Los Angeles left off -- a discussion about the racial makeup of Comcast and NBC Uni and how they might change if their merger is approved.

June's event was hosted by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., while Thursday's was hosted by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. Both were joined Thursday by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., and Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind.

Some of what Jackson is seeking has already been promised by Comcast-NBC Uni and, in fact, was laid out in a lengthy letter to Rush from Comcast executive vp David Cohen that was made public Thursday.

The letter listed seven diversity initiatives involving training, mentoring, hiring, investing and programming.

Cohen promised the merged entity would create a minimum of four "new linear programming services" in which African-American investors own majorities. He also ensured creation of a venture-capital fund of at least $20 million to be invested in "minority businesses."

As in Los Angeles, NBC Uni executive vp diversity Paula Madison was there to promote the merger. This time she was joined by Joseph Waz Jr., senior vp external affairs and public policy counsel for Comcast.

Making a case against the merger on the grounds that it would stifle competition was EarthLink general counsel Samuel DeSimone Jr. Among his arguments was that Comcast has an incentive to ensure that "online video does not develop as a substitute for cable television."

Waz countered that the merger will lead to an increased investment in NBC Uni because its content assets would be "under the control of a company that is focused exclusively on the communications and entertainment industries," as opposed to General Electric, the industrials conglomerate that now owns NBC Uni.

"Comcast's and NBC Uni's innovation and experimentation with new business models and investment in cutting-edge programming delivery platforms and services will spur our existing and new competitors to follow suit," Waz said.

That message was countered in Chicago newspaper ads from a group of 21 businesses and organizations calling themselves the Coalition for Competition in Media.

At the group's Web site, competitioninmedia.org, it says a combined Comcast NBC-Uni would wield "far too much power for one cable company."
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