NBCU-Comcast foes afraid to speak out?

Congresswoman says opponents fear blacklisting

Opponents of the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal fear being blacklisted if they speak their minds.

So argues U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who made the charge Monday during a House Judiciary hearing that focused on whether the proposed merger would lead to more, or less, ethnic diversity in the entertainment industry.

The outspoken California Democrat also insinuated that someone representing Comcast inquired about making certain political donations in exchange for her support of the merger.

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter for names and other details about both of her accusations, Waters demurred. "Let's not go there," she said.

But during the public hearing, Waters noted that some scheduled to testify Monday bowed out at the last minute, fearful of retribution.

"It is somewhat troublesome that many independent and minority programmers, producers, writers and directors have been afraid to voice their concerns for fear of blacklisting or other forms of retaliation," she told about 120 witnesses, attendees and fellow House members. The Monday meeting was the first such public event in Los Angeles where views about the proposed merger were solicited by lawmakers.

As to Waters' assertion of some sort of an attempt at bribery, she described a phone call she received asking what she wanted from a merged Comcast-NBC Uni.

While answering that her desire was that it produce more opportunities for minorities in the media, she was interrupted: "The representative said, 'No, I'm talking about, what do you want?' And I want you to know that it's easy for members of Congress to have those kinds of conversations about, 'what do you want?' "

Waters spoke of being "deluged" by organizations supportive of the merger whose primary motivation seems to be that Comcast has been a generous donor.

"They should continue to give their 50 cents to the Boy Scouts, but we're talking about competition or ownership," she said. "So if there's anybody here today who wants to talk about how much money you've given to the NAACP, the Urban League, to Al Sharpton -- this is not the place to do it."

Apparently, though, it was the perfect place to count ethnic minorities in high places at NBC.

"How many of the executive producers for your 2010 fall lineup are minorities?" she asked Paula Madison, executive vp of diversity at NBC Uni.

Five out of 18 scripted shows -- "Law & Order: L.A.," Law & Order: SVU," "Love Bites," "The Office" and "Outlaw" -- have "seven diverse co-executive producers," Madison told the congresswoman.

Apparently unsatisfied, Waters went through her list of Peacock shows, asking about minority representation among the cast and producing staffs, beginning with "The Event," which stars black actor Blair Underwood as the U.S. president.

When Madison informed Waters that they did not yet have an executive producer for that show, Waters sought to rectify the situation immediately. "Are there any African-American executive producer types in the audience? Are there any Latino executive producers in the audience?"

"We know of some, and the ones who are on the shows, we hired them on those shows," Madison said.

"No, no, no," Waters interrupted. "But you don't have them on this one."

And so it went, as Waters, effectively the host of the proceedings given that it's her home district, proceeded through her list of NBC shows that her staff put together and apparently contained their estimations -- sometimes wrong -- about the number of minorities involved.

The new show "Outsourced," for example, is about an American corporate manager tasked with training employees in India. "You have three minorities in supporting roles and no executive producers. Is that correct?" Waters asked.

"I believe we have five minorities in the ensemble," Madison corrected her.

"Would you tell us what those racial minorities are?" Waters said.

"South-Asian," came the answer from a member in the audience. On several occasions, in fact, Madison deferred to one or another NBC executive in the audience for an accurate measure of diversity on particular shows.

The hearing featured more witnesses opposed to the merger than supportive of it.

One supporter who was a no-show was former Lakers star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who in a statement praised NBC Uni chief Jeff Zucker for making it "crystal clear that cultivating diversity makes good business sense in today's demanding economy."

Others testifying in support of the merger included Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins and Hip Hop on Demand COO Will Griffin.

One of the most vocal detractors of the merger was Stanley Washington, CEO of the National Coalition of African-American Owned Media, who is so disillusioned at Comcast's "diversity" practices that he called for a boycott of the cable giant.

House Judiciary chairman John Conyers opened the three-hour meeting by putting to rest the assertion that "this merger is in the bag."

"This is a historic moment in the economic life of this country," the Michigan Democrat said.

Waters and Conyers were joined by three other House Judiciary members: Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.