The prospect of new opportunities for minority media companies, entrepreneurs and professionals is looming on the horizon in the wake of a Congressional hearing in Chicago, IL regarding the proposed merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. Led by Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL), who made a point of demonstrating his commitment to diversity in the digital age, ensuring that people of color can leverage new media opportunities to promote economic empowerment was among the top themes of the testimony given during the July 8th event. As Will Griffin, Chairman and CEO of Hip Hop On Demand noted during his testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, “Comcast has the best Infrastructure of inclusion to build upon in the media industry, [and] African-American consumers and policy-makers have more potential leverage over Comcast than any other media company.”
As Mr. Griffin went on to explain in his testimony, the possibility of fostering a more minority-focused media conglomerate that represents the diversity of the American landscape is a real possibility with this deal. Even cautious observers of the merger agree on the import and impact that this union could have on minority communities. After asserting that job creation, investment in and partnership with minority-owned businesses, and increasing broadband adoption and employment opportunities by minorities must be deemed high priorities of the merger, Jonathan Jackson, appearing on behalf of his father Rev. Jesse Jackson, Founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, emphasized during his testimony how the Comcast/NBCU pairing can and must work for communities of color: “With this proposed merger comes a rare – and perhaps the last – opportunity to address critical issues in the global communications landscape…an opportunity exists to create a new minority-owned venture…diversity should be a top down priority in every aspect of the merger…training programs must be developed and enhanced to increase minorities in leadership roles…”
In an effort to continue its commitment to engaging communities of color, and perhaps to court favor in securing the terms of their impending merger, Comcast/NBCU seem to be stepping up to the plate by offering a treasure trove of new business possibilities for African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and other diverse audiences. Recently, Comcast announced its creation of a $20 million venture capital fund dedicated expressly to the development and roll-out of new media content and technologies by minority entrepreneurs. The announcement of this fund followed very public commitments to create a nine-member Hispanic Advisory Council to help develop and oversee a strategic outreach and diversity plan to Latino communities. A corollary is expected for African American communities as well. Likewise, a Joint Council, consisting of representatives from the African American, Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, LGBT, Disabled, and Veteran communities is being assembled to further ensure that adequate attention is paid to the interests of diverse audiences after approval of the merger.
Skeptics may question the rationale behind these new diversity initiatives. But, If concerns about media consolidation are what underlie most opposition to the merger, then it stands to reason that such fears could be tempered – if not wholly allayed – by the preliminary steps that Comcast/NBCU is taking to ensure greater diversity among media affiliates and content providers. Though two major corporations are coming together, there seems to be a substantial commitment on their part to make sure that the new company that emerges is more representative of what America really looks like.
Contrary to some beliefs that people of color represent a monolith, unable to represent their own views and opinions, this deal could provide the prime opportunity for a diverse array of voices to emerge and ensure that their interests are truly represented in our ever-evolving national media landscape. Famed playwright Tony Kushner once called America “the melting pot that never melted.” Maybe this merger could be a first step toward reversing that trend; perhaps now we will see a media enterprise that truly represents the variety of flavors, tones and cultures that this country has to offer.