A Black media owner sues the Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights organizations for allegedly providing cover for discrimination against Black-owned media, and says President Obama is ‘bought and paid for’ by Comcast, America’s largest cable company.
BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
LOS ANGELES – Black media entrepreneur Byron Allen has filed a $20 billion lawsuit against cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable as well as the NAACP, the National Urban League (NUL), and the National Action Network (NAN) for allegedly conspiring to discriminate against 100 percent African-American-owned media in contracting for slots on cable networks.
Allen’s company, which owns eight digital channels, claims that racial discrimination is the reason he has been unable to air content on cable systems owned by Comcast and Time Warner, and thus share in advertising revenue.
“100% African-American-owned media has been shut out by Comcast,” the lawsuit states. “Of the approximately $11 billion in channel carriage fees that Comcast pays to license television channels each year, less than $3 million is paid to 100% African American-owned media.”
In making his case, Allen has been slashing away on TV, in print, and on the Internet. He is especially harsh toward Sharpton, whom he said “is…nothing more than a than a Black pawn in a very sophisticated White economic chess game… used by his White masters at Comcast and AT&T,” as he told the Daily Caller website.
“It’s cheaper to give Al Sharpton money, than it is to do business with real African-American-owned media,” Allen charged, calling Sharpton “the least expensive Negro” in a CNN interview.
“What Comcast did is, they give Al Sharpton money so he doesn’t call them racist. That is the issue here,” Allen exclaimed in an interview with the Huffington Post.
“Why is Al Sharpton getting more money from AT&T than Ebony Magazine, which has been around for 70 years?…I find it outrageous that AT&T is the biggest sponsor of Sharpton’s 60th birthday party. (They) spent more money on Al Sharpton’s birthday party than they have on 100-percent African-American owned media combined.”
Allen also claims that Sharpton, President Obama, and civil rights organizations are letting large corporations and the federal government off the hook for not doing business with 100-percent Black-owned media companies.
Filed last month
Allen’s California-based company, Entertainment Studios Networks, and an organization calling itself the National Association of African-American Owned Media filed the lawsuit February 20 in a Los Angeles federal court.
It’s the second federal lawsuit the two entities have filed that place scrutiny on high-profile media mergers. They jointly filed a $10 billion lawsuit in December against a proposed AT&T merger with DirecTV valued at $45.8 billion.
Both the AT&T/Direct TV and the Comcast/Time Warner Cable proposed mergers are currently under regulatory review.
Allen’s lawsuit describes how the civil rights organizations – none of which own media outlets – were allegedly bought off to prevent them from objecting to Comcast’s $45 billion-dollar proposed merger with Time Warner Cable.
According to the complaint, Comcast entered into “memoranda of understanding” and “voluntary diversity agreements” with Sharpton’s National Action Network, the NAACP, and the National Urban League. Comcast then used the documents and the credibility provided by the organizations to cover up a conspiracy in which the nation’s largest cable company racially discriminated against 100 percent Black-owned media outlets like Allen’s.
“Each of the signatories to the MOU between Comcast and the “African American Leadership Organizations” were paid by Comcast in the time leading up to the Comcast/NBC-Universal deal,” the lawsuit states.
“Comcast paid $30,000 to the NAACP, $835,000 to the National Urban League…Comcast also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the National Urban League’s various regional affiliates.”
Allen’s lawsuit also alleges that Comcast, which owns MSNBC, paid Sharpton “over $3.8 million in ‘donations’ and as salary” for his work as an MSNBC host, which the lawsuit states is $750,000 a year.
The legal action also claims that Comcast and Time Warner Cable airs only one fully Black-owned channel, the Africa Channel – which itself is partially owned by a former Comcast executive who allegedly was in on the conspiracy.
“Aside from a channel that is owned and operated by the former Comcast/NBC-Universal executive who authored the MOUs, Comcast has not launched a single 100% African American-owned channel – by way of the MOUs or otherwise,” the lawsuit states.
Obama uses Sharpton
“I think that Obama uses him (Sharpton) to control the Negroes,” Allen told the Daily Caller. “D.C. has been taking payoffs. Comcast (whom Allen claims was one of Obama’s largest corporate campaign donors) owns every politician in that town, including President Obama.
“Obama has been bought and paid for…President Obama, you control a couple billion dollars in (federal) advertising. What have you done to make sure African-American-owned media is participating in government advertising? We got more respect from President Clinton.
“And what happened in the Obama administration is former (Federal Communications Commissioner) Meredith Attwell Baker voted for the merger of Comcast-NBC Universal (in 2010) and then 90 days later took a much higher paying job with Comcast after granting them the merger. That was betraying the public’s trust as a public service.”
In 2010, Comcast faced criticism for its diversity efforts during the federal evaluation of its NBC-Universal merger that was subsequently approved.
As part of a 2011 agreement, the cable giant agreed to launch several cable channels backed by non-Whites, including the Aspire channel headed by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, the Revolt channel lead by Sean “Diddy” Combs, and El Rey network with Latino film director Robert Rodriguez.
Comcast cited the three networks as evidence of its commitment to diversity. Allen isn’t buying it, saying that research indicates that the non-White “celebrities” are not the true majority owners of either of the three networks Comcast cites.
“The real ownership of these entities will come out in the lawsuit,” he explains, and includes venture capital funds and White former cable company executives.
A Comcast spokeswoman who spoke with the Los Angeles Times newspaper called the lawsuit “frivolous.”
“We do not generally comment on pending litigation, but this complaint represents nothing more than a string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations,” she is quoted as saying. A Time Warner Cable spokeswoman refused to discuss the lawsuit.
In various media outlets, Sharpton and NAN rejected the claims, saying they could support defamation counterclaims, and that NAN has received less than $1 million from Comcast.
“The lawsuit is the epitome of an insult to the Black community” and has “not one scintilla of evidence,” Sharpton said in a phone interview with Reuters. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he “welcomes the opportunity to answer the frivolous allegations.”
“National Action Network has not been served with any papers and considers this claim frivolous. If in fact we were to be served, we would gladly defend our relationship with any company as well as to state on the record why we found these discriminatory accusations made by said party to be less than credible and beneath the standards that we engage in,” NAN wrote in reply to Allen’s Huffington Post interview.
The Florida Courier has been unable to locate a response from either the national NAACP or the National Urban League as of press time late Wednesday night.