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24 Jun 2010

Behind the Radio One and TV One Deal?

Listed under: Blog

After reading your 06/22 post ‘Radio One makes financial moves to take 56%
ownership of TV One stock’, I had some thoughts. I’m generally not one to
‘editorialize’ or comment, but what I read presented some compelling issues
that I believe are worth raising.

The article states that Radio One has initiated ‘financial transactions’
that will enable the company to increase its shares in TV One; an entity in
which they currently own a 37% interest and co-own with other entities
including Comcast Cable.

The article continues…”The news of Radio One’s plans comes on the heels of
a recent announcement by Comcast regarding its pending merger with NBC
Universal.” Now generally this could all simply be a ‘timing’ issue, you
know – coincidence. But…the next line reads, in context, “To address
concerns raised by some members of Congress that the cable company (Comcast)
has a poor record on diversity in personnel and programming, Comcast
announced that, among other considerations, it will ‘add at least three
independent cable networks with substantial [minority] ownership interest
over the next three years.” So it ‘appears’, no, let’s be candid, it is
apparent that the Radio One’s move to elevate itself from a minority
stockholder to majority stock holder was calculated to position itself via
TV One as one of the independent cable networks with substantial minority
ownership interest.

My first issue is very simple. The charge at the core of the Congressional
concern is that Comcast has a poor record on diversity in personnel and
programming. Translation – they are discriminatory in their employment
practices and they fail to promote programming that expresses diverse
viewpoints — likely Black and Latino viewpoints. These practices
apparently were not a concern for Comcast and they were not motivated to
address the issue until it became a threat to their economic interest. Now
my legal training would cause me to say that their response was
nonresponsive to the Congressional inquiry. It does not appear that they
indicated that they would make even a good faith effort to explore their
practices and address their overall corporate policy of personnel and
programming [viewpoint] diversity. Perhaps they did, but what was stated in
the article was that they would add at least 3 independent ‘token’ minority
networks to their mix. Somehow this ‘tokenism’ is intended to pacify
Congress and address the issues. I’d say probably not. It simply allows
them to do business as usual on a now extensively expanded playing field –
if the merger is successful, while adding a short list of independent
minority controlled cable networks to their menu of networks to be added to
the markets of their choice. Meaning they still control when and where
diverse viewpoints are expressed.

Additionally, Comcast is apparently availing themselves of a 2-for and
assuming that these minority controlled entities hire minority personnel.
Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Bottom-line – this is a classic ‘smoke and
mirrors’ scenario. While on its face it looks like they are addressing the
concern, they are simply creating an illusion of good faith and intent.
Insulting? Should be.

The second issue is a little more complex for me. It would appear, at first
glance, that Radio One’s positioning is a smart strategic move to position
itself for a lucrative opportunity. In other words, just plain good
business. Most of us can respect that. However, when minority controlled
entities are approached, not for the quality of their programming but to be
leveraged for their status as such [minority controlled] to aid and abet
suspect mainstream entries in quieting challenges such as the ones presented
here, the deal looks a little different. When the minority entities get all
dressed up for that date, it looks like, sounds like, walks and talks like
‘pimpin”. Yes. Selling out its value – here the position as a minority
controlled entity – for economic gain. Now you may be thinking, that’s not
‘pimpin” that’s prostituting. And if such entities were selling out their
own value, it would be. But where they are leveraging the value of an
entire Black and/or Latino community for their personal gain, it is
absolutely, positively ‘pimpin”. This has been a paradigm that has been in
existence since regulation and legislation has challenged mainstream
entities to become more diverse. Tokenism does not solve the problem. If it
did, entities like Comcast would not have to be sanctioned to ‘do the right
thing’. But in 2010 they still need prompting. Yielding to such tokenism
undermines the value of the community minority entities represent and
ultimately dilutes its voice. When, I ask, are we going to hold our
entities accountable for raising the bar and holding the standard?
Remember, these noncompliant mainstream entities ‘need minority owned’
enterprises to accomplish their objective. That puts these minority
entities in a position of power and influence. What if one day these
entities – these sleeping giants woke up and realized that being socially
conscious and responsible does not have to be at the expense of economic
gain? What if they realized that they could truly have it all and leave a
legacy of having shifted the paradigm to the benefit of themselves and the
communities they represent? What if? – Anonymously submitted.