Jesse Jackson Slams Dish Network's Decision to Drop WGN America as Discriminatory

Courtesy of WGN America
'Underground'

"[Are they] using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man?" asked Jackson in a letter to Dish chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen.

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson called for Dish Network to put Tribune Broadcasting stations and WGN America back on the air, referencing slavery in regard to the network's decision to darken WGN, which boasts the critically acclaimed show Underground. 

On Friday, Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition released a letter to Dish chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen stating the importance of WGN America portraying positive images of African-Americans on television during a necessary time in society. Jackson suggested that Dish network ignoring the high ratings and milestones of the show is a discriminatory act.

"Is Dish using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man? Dish is not taking into account that Underground has broken records for WGN America as their highest-rated original program in nearly 18 years, ranked as the top cable program on Wednesday nights throughout its run, and averaged 3 million viewers weekly," wrote Jackson.

Underground is WGNA's most-watched original scripted series in the history of the network, starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Adina Porter, Alono Miller and Christopher Meloni in the story of the Underground Railroad. The show, which follows American heroes who plan a 600-mile escape from slavery toward freedom, has already been greenlit for a second season.

"For far too long African-Americans have been underrepresented and unfavorably portrayed on television, silencing the significant contributions they have made to this country. Underground is a crucial part of a brand-new day of diversity on television that sheds a bright light on the bravery, ingenuity and power of the African-American experience, and is being used as teachable moments in homes and history classes around the nation at a time when we need it most," Jackson continued in the letter. 

WGN is set to air a marathon of the first season of Underground on July 2, which will be unavailable to Dish subscribers.

"WGN America is deeply committed to sharing positive portrayals of African-Americans and instilling a sense of hope and positivity at a time when our nation needs it most," Jackson stated.

Dish responded in a statement that Tribune rejected its offers for an extension during negotiations. The network also stated that Ergen invited Jackson and Tribune CEO Peter Liguori for a meeting on Thursday for what "could be a sharing of ideas that would have allowed Dish and Tribune to reach an agreement that was fair to our subscribers and to Tribune." Jackson and Liguori did not respond to the invitation.

"Having passed on an opportunity to get all the facts and having issued a press release after that meeting was scheduled to occur, we are skeptical that Rev. Jackson is truly interested in finding a fair deal for DISH customers," continued Dish in the statement. 

Jackson's comments also come after Dish network sued Tribune Broadcasting, alleging a breach of contract for its commercials that it claims represent the network in a negative light. 

Read Jackson's full letter to Ergen below.

Dear Mr. Ergen: 

While DISH's decision to pull WGN America from its lineup might seem, on the surface, like a disagreement between two parties - the ripple effect of that decision is greater than anyone might realize. This news is disappointing on so many levels. As illustrated by their critically acclaimed series, "Underground," WGN America is deeply committed to sharing positive portrayals of African Americans and instilling a sense of hope and positivity at a time when our nation needs it most. Its impact, at the most basic level, is to promote the African American experience in a way that speaks to the next generation-something that the executives at DISH should keep in mind.

For far too long African Americans have been underrepresented and unfavorably portrayed on television, silencing the significant contributions they have made to this country. "Underground" is a crucial part of a brand-new day of diversity on television that sheds a bright light on the bravery, ingenuity and power of the African-American experience, and is being used as teachable moments in homes and history classes around the nation at a time when we need it most. Never before have we seen a serialized program focusing on the American heroes of the Underground Railroad, those who had nothing yet used what little they had to make it to freedom. It is an inspiring and moving narrative that we need to retell again and again if we are to heal this country and the shift the divisive dialogue to one of hope and understanding.

"Underground" not only reached milestones as must-watch art, but it's also produced measurable metrics in commerce that DISH continues to ignore. Is DISH using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man? DISH is not taking into account that "Underground" has broken records for WGN America as their highest-rated original program in nearly 18 years, ranked as the top cable program on Wednesday nights throughout its run, and averaged 3
million viewers weekly.

By disparaging the network that created "Underground" and counting out millions of African Americans who watch the show and doubly discounting them by seeking to yet again erase the strength of a people on whose bloodied hands and backs we stand, raises troubling questions.

Every other distributor has recognized the value of "Underground," and we're extremely saddened to hear that the Underground train has literally left the station and DISH is not on board. It's a move that impacts viewers in a way that is palpable and reminds those in the African American community that their stories don't hold much weight when it comes to addressing differences among partners.

We need to keep hope alive and a decision to put WGN America back on the air will reignite a conversation that America needs to have right here and right now. So we ask that DISH act on Tribune Media's same fair-market offer that all other cable, satellite and telco distributors have agreed to so we have a platform that allows us to keep the conversation going; a conversation that matters.

 

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