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Time Warner, Comcast slapped with $20 bn racial bias lawsuit

MUMBAI: Comcast Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc have been sued for $20 billion for allegedly discriminating against African American-owned media and shutting out African American-owned channels from their line-ups.

According to reports, the lawsuit was filed on Friday in Los Angeles federal court by the National Association of African American Owned Media and Entertainment Studios Networks, as US regulators review the proposed $45-billion merger between the two biggest US cable operators.

The same group filed a $10 billion lawsuit in December against AT&T Inc and DirecTV, whose proposed merger is also under regulatory review.

The lawsuit also claims that Comcast, in securing approval for its 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal, reached memorandums of understanding with a number of civil rights groups, including the NAACP, the National Urban League and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, that were a “sham to whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices”.

However, Comcast has rubbished the lawsuit as ‘frivolous’, and other defendants are threatening a countersuit for defamation.

The MOUs called for Comcast to carry 10 new independently owned channels by 2020, four of which will be owned and managed by African Americans. The suit contends that the only 100 per cent African American-owned channel Comcast has agreed to broadcast is the Africa Channel, and that it is owned by Paula Madison, formerly chief diversity officer for NBC Universal, who was involved in putting together the MOUs.

According to the complaint, Comcast entered into ‘memoranda of understanding’ with Sharpton, the NAACP and other advocacy groups to provide large cash ‘donations’ in exchange for their not interfering with its alleged refusal to contract with African American-owned media.

Sharpton and his National Action Network allegedly received “over $3.8 million in ‘donations’ and as salary” for his work as an MSNBC host, state reports.

The lawsuit further claims that African American celebrities are posing as ‘fronts’ for the channels when they are actually owned and controlled by white-owned businesses. The suit says that Entertainment Studios has carriage contracts with over 40 TV distributors nationwide, including Verizon, CenturyLink and RCN.