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Comcast Under Fire: Black Media Reps Demand More Black-owned Channels

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Ownership is a major driver of the Black economy. Knowing this, a group advocating Black media ownership and a former Federal Communications Commission chairman are spearheading a crusade against cable giant Comcast and their proposed merger with NBC/Universal over the cable operator's lack of African-American owned channels on its national platform.

"When you really start thinking about the areas that are critically important to us as African-Americans, one of the biggest issues is our ability to own, distribute and create our image," said Stanley Washington, president of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media (NCAAOM).

Although African-Americans make up almost 13 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they own far less than one percent of the country's television channels. Seventy-seven percent of all television channels are White-owned, according to media watchdog group Free Press, who cites public FCC filings. The numbers do not include stations owned by publicly held companies whose boards are typically not very diverse.

If the FFC approves the merger, Comcast, already the country's largest cable and home Internet provider, will own 44 of the 250 channels carried on its platform.

According to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's 2010 State of the Media Report, the top three owners of African-American-targeted cable channels are TV One and media behemoths Time Warner and Viacom, who both own three such channels a piece. Viacom's African-American-targeted channels such as BET, VH1 Soul and new channel Centric dedicate a significant portion of its programming toward music videos.

"In addition to cable networks and Video-on-Demand, Comcast also carries several broadcast stations around the country that are African-American owned and/or targeted to African-American audiences," said Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice in a statement. "Our desire to work with African-American media owners extends proudly to our seminal role in partnering with Radio One to launch TV One in 2003."

After Black Entertainment Television's sale to Viacom by Robert Johnson in 2003, TV One is the closest thing to a Black-owned cable channel that Comcast has on its basic cable platform.

Comcast owns 33 percent of the Black-targeted channels along with Radio One, which owns a 40 percent interest. Until it became a publicly-traded company, Radio One, with it's 69 radio stations and other media properties, was the largest Black-owned media company in the U.S. Its African-American founder Cathy Hughes and her son Alfred Liggins, who is the company's chief executive and chairman of TV One's board, still control 90 percent of the company's vote.

Still, Washington contends that TV One is not technically "Black-owned" because although Radio One is a majority owner it still operates as a publicly-traded company.

Washington is demanding that if the FCC approves the Comcast and NBC/Universal merger, then at least 25 channels or 10 percent of the 250 channel capacity that Comcast carries in its basic cable platform should be allocated to Black-owned cable channels.

The demand is not unprecedented. When the FCC approved the merging of satellite radio company's Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc in 2008, the companies agreed to dedicate 8 percent of their channels to African American-owned media.

Are there even enough viable African-American ownership groups available to sustain 25 cable channels?

"Absolutely," said Washington. "We have a number of African-American led groups that have come to the table and they have tried to build themselves strong, viable channel opportunities in the industry."

Washington is not demanding 25 different Black owners. One owner can own and control multiple channels as big corporations already do, he said. He just wants parity.

"We just want as African-American owners in a free trade environment to be able to come to the table fairly like everybody else,” Washington said. “It doesn't have to be 25 BETs or TV Ones. It can be any kind of channels or any type of content. Ultimately, we're looking for ownership in the platform."

Possible high-profile players could be people like BET founder Robert Johnson, who is awaiting the FCC to approve his plan to launch a new television network called Urban Television, and television host and producer Byron Allen who already has six channels on Verizon's FiOs fiber-optic television service. Television personalities like Tyler Perry, Ice Cube, P. Diddy and Russell Simmons are already heavily responsible in the creation of Black programming on major networks and could have a hand in new channels.

"Comcast distributes a variety of minority- and/or independently-owned channels," Comcast's spokesperson said. “We have carriage agreements with independent, African-American networks, such as The Black Television News Channel, which will deliver news and information specifically relevant to the African-American community, and The Africa Channel, which is carried in many Comcast systems today. We also carry other cable networks and Video-On-Demand programming of interest to African American audiences including BET, Centric, VH1 Soul, and the Gospel Music Channel."

While not on its national platform, Comcast has carriage agreements with Black-owned channels the Africa Channel, which focuses on programming about and from the continent it was named after, and the Black Television News Channel, a not-yet-launched 24/7 Black news channel founded by J.C. Watts, a former Black Republican congressman from Oklahoma. The agreement allows Comcast to selectively roll out a channel to a limited number of markets where it is expected to perform well. Washington charges that carriage agreements do not give independent channels an equal playing field to perform.

"Instead of giving the Africa Channel an opportunity to be widely carried, Comcast, which is the nation's largest cable provider and has 25 million households, will give them a carriage agreement--which is essentially a hunting license. But they won't put them on their basic cable platform to be widely-distributed nationally," Washington said.

Cable and satellite providers must pay the channels they carry a monthly subscription payout that can range anywhere from 10 cents to five dollars per subscriber. Subscription rates for carriage agreements, on the other hand, can be as low as one cent per subscriber, according to Washington. Because of their limited distribution, the subscriber base for channels with carriage agreements are far less than basic cable channels.

"What Comcast has been doing is economically starving our business owners out of the business by not giving them fair revenue from subscriber fees that they pay everybody else and by not widely carrying them on their platform,” Washington said.

He charges that Comcast viewed the Robert Townsend founded-Black Family Channel, which folded in 2007 over lack of distribution, as a competitor to its TV One channel and limited its support. He contends that they are doing the same thing to the Africa Channel.

"At the end of the day, the Black Family Channel was unable to sustain itself enough to be able to grow to become a channel on Comcast and other platforms," he said.

In an April letter to Comcast chairman Brian Roberts, Willis Edwards, vice president of NAACP's Beverly Hills Hollywood chapter, wrote, "After decades of ignoring this problem, the perpetual lack of support behind African American owned media can only be described as discriminatory and Restraint of Trade...Our focus on this issue is only the first step in an established strategy to expose what many consider the largest trade deficit in this country; the one between Corporate America and Black America. ... There is a belief that Comcast has been operating in a restraint of trade with a lot of businesses- the Tennis Channel, The NFL Channel, [financial and business channel] Bloomberg Television is concerned about this merger because Comcast will own [rival business channel] CNBC."

The Tennis Channel and the NFL Network have filed lawsuits against the cable giant over fair trade practices, some connected to its ownership of rival channels.

"If those big players with mass resources can't compete, imagine what happens to us?" Washington said.

Over the next 18 months Comcast is converting its platform to become entirely digital. Like it's satellite competitors, Comcast will be able to have a virtual unlimited channel capacity, which could mean better opportunities for independent and Black-owned channels to be carried nationally.

In the mean time, the NCAAOM is working on filing a restraint of trade lawsuit against Comcast. They have retained former FCC chairman Kevin Martin as their lead attorney. As the FCC head under the Bush administration, Martin earned a fierce reputation of being 'anti-cable' over his series of regulatory battles against cable operators.

Fitzmaurice said that all subscriber fees are individually negotiated between each channel and carrier. A popular channel like ABC-owned ESPN with it's expensive sports broadcast licenses and it's millions of viewers has the leverage to negotiate a higher subscriber fee than an independent channel with very little name recognition.

“We have to pay and, ultimately, our customers have to pay,” Fitzmaurice said. “We have to determine our programming based on what we and our customers have to pay for these channels.”

Black Publishers to Celebrate 70th Anniversary in New York - Advertising Capital of the World

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - The Nation's only association of Black newspaper publishers has chosen to commemorate it's 70th year of existence in New York City - the birth place of the Black press - with a line up of civil rights giants, issues panels, glitzy gathers and a first annual Legacy of Excellence dinner.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association's annual summer convention will take place at New York’s Sheraton Hotel & Towers June 16-19. This year's theme is "Power to Influence Black America."

"Our agenda is how do we find common ground in working together to reinforce the challenges of the Black press with advertising?" said Danny Bakewell, chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel. "These companies have mega budgets but they don't advertise with the Black press. Many of our major companies like AT&T, General Motors and Ford have come back online and reunited with the Black Press as major partners."

The week's string of events are expected to draw big name civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"It benefits the reputation of NNPA to have all of our colleagues - those who we work with in the struggle - to join us to not only commemorate our 70th anniversary, but also to plan with us and gather with us to focus on how we can work together on our mutual agendas," Bakewell said.

The conference will kick off with a "Press and the Pulpit" breakfast hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton and a lunch with Dr. Bernice King , daughter of civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The following day, a breakfast and lunch is scheduled with Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League and the Rev. Jesse Jackson followed by a panel where national civil rights leaders will discuss the crisis in Black America. The panel will also include Morial, Jackson, NAACP's president and chief executive Benjamin Jealous, Dr. Michael Lomax, the president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree and Kathy Times, president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

On Thursday evening, following the MillerCoors A. Philip Randolph Messenger Awards, the annual staple event will take place. That’s the glitzy NNPA Merit Awards gala, hostessed by Black press icon NNPA Foundation Chair Dorothy R. Leavell. Among the string of coveted awards, the top John B. Russwurm Trophy will be given to the newspaper receiving the most points in all 22 Merit Awards categories. Also, for the second year, the Thomas Morgan III Merit Award for HIV/AIDS Education will be given to the NNPA member newspaper which demonstrates the most exemplary original HIV/AIDS coverage from last year.

The first annual Legacy of Excellence dinner gala and awards presentation will anchor the week. The event will award U. S. Rep. Charles Rangel and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Lead singer of the O'Jays Eddie Levert will highlight that evening's entertainment.

"Both men represent excellence in achievement that is unmatched," Bakewell said. "They come during a time when they set and achieved goals that prior to them people never would have believed could be accomplished by Black people. They were on the threshold of excellence much like the Black press was on the threshold of excellence. We think that they are befitting to be recognized as representatives of the levels of achievement that occurs in our community all the time by people who refuse to accept barriers as an excuse and accept other people's opinions about what we can do and can't do."

With the founding of the nation's first Black newspaper, the Freedom's Journal, in 1827 by two free Black men, John Russwurm and Rev. Samuel Cornish, New York is the official birthplace of the Black press. Bakewell said that he wants to commission a plate or a cornerstone to memorialize the site of the founding of the first Black newspaper. Today there are historic Black newspapers in New York City that are members of NNPA- the New York Amsterdam News, the New York Beacon, the New York Carib News, and the New York Daily Challenge, as well as eight others around the state and immediate area.

The city also holds the distinction of being the media and advertising capital of the world as well, a particular draw for a media outlet that traditionally lacks the same access to resources as their mainstream counterparts. But, Bakewell is optimistic about the future for Black newspapers.

"This has been a landmark year for the Black press," Bakewell said. "We have resurfaced bigger, bolder than ever and it's because of extraordinary leadership of Black publishers across the country and this is just the beginning."

U.N. Refuses to Cancel Prize Named for Dictator

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) – A life sciences award administered by the U.N. agency UNESCO and funded by the President of Equatorial Guinea has stirred outrage among the exile community and human rights activists worldwide.

In a letter to the Paris-based UNESCO office, Tutu Alicante of EG Justice wrote: “We repeat our call for the $3 million that UNESCO has accepted from President Obiang to be applied to the education and welfare of Equatoguineans, rather than the glorification of their president.” The money could better be used, he said, to buy school books, benches and other supplies for the poorly financed primary school system.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences is a $300,000 grant to be awarded to up to three scientists each year in the name of Equatorial Guinea's allegedly corrupt and repressive ruler.

Equatorial Guinea is Africa's fourth largest oil producer. Most health and quality-of-life indicators rank the country West African nation near the bottom, with life expectancy at around 50 years old.

Objections were first raised in 2008 by executive board members of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said Alicante. More recently, UNESCO received communications from Equatoguinean human rights defenders, global civil society groups, scholars, and others to cancel the prize without delay.

"We hope you agree that a political leader with this record is not worthy of the positive endorsement of UNESCO," Human Rights Watch wrote. Nevertheless, on April 22 UNESCO informed governments that it plans to award the UNESCO-Obiang prize for the first time at the end of June 2010.

Anti-Apartheid Activist Warned of Rich-Poor Gap

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Special to the NNPA from the GIN –

(GIN) - Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, a scholar, author and former member of the anti-apartheid opposition, died this week at age 70 during treatment for liver and other problems.

Before he died, he signaled the dangers of the growing gap between rich and poor. "I do know from talking to ordinary people that there is a great deal of anger at the conspicuous consumption of the new emerging elite," the former leader said in a press interview.

"The biggest gap at the moment is not between black and white, but between black and black in terms of access to economic opportunities."

Once the rugby-playing son of conservative Afrikaners, Slabbert turned towards multi-racial politics in the late 70s and 80s, opening up dialogue between Afrikaners and the exiled African National Congress.

Later, with rights advocate Alex Boraine, he helped formed the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa, known as Idasa, to organize meetings between whites and blacks in apartheid South Africa. The group is now the Institute for Democracy in Africa.

Meanwhile, in an unscheduled visit to a Johannesburg slum, President Jacob Zuma said he was nearly reduced to tears when he saw a family's living conditions in a shack he visited there. "You could swear no-one lived in that shack," Zuma told premiers and ministers at the President's Coordinating Council in Pretoria.

There is currently a 2.1 million housing backlog and more than 2,700 informal settlements.

Thousands of Graduates are All Dressed Up With No Place to Go

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Like thousands of recent college graduates who have marched proudly in their caps and gowns, 22-year-old Nikole Pegues' plan is to now get a job. But, how that plan is going to pan out is a little bit of a mystery at this point.

The Queens, New York native, upon receiving her bachelor's degree from Howard University, went from being a college student with high hopes to an unemployment statistic with a six-month countdown to pay back four years of student loans.

"I don't know many people who have paying jobs lined up after graduation," Pegues said. "I only know of two or three."

The good news is that the economy produced 290,000 jobs last month, the largest gain in four years, according the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report. The bad news is that the unemployment rate for African-Americans is an unacceptable 16.5 percent.

Pegues has been sending out resumes since January, but she’s gotten very few responses. Two weeks ago, she received two rejections. But two days following her graduation ceremony she received two calls for interviews.

"I'm not sure if companies were waiting on me to graduate or what," she said.

Her back-up plan is to start applying to jobs completely out of her field.

"It really hurts me to think that I've spent four years in school and spent about $100,000 dollars to end up working in a field that is not related to my degree,” Pegues said. “In the same breath, six months out I have to start paying on my school loans."

And as a very last resort, if she is still unable to find some type of gainful employment, she'd be willing to drive herself further into debt and apply to graduate master's programs in an attempt to become even more competitive. But, while searching for options, the impact on self-esteem can be grueling.

"What's wrong with me where I'm not competitive enough? Why am I not getting a response that I thought I would? I felt entitled,” she said. “I thought once I got a college degree I'm entitled to a job, that's just how this was supposed to work. You're told your whole life, "If you go to college you'll get a degree and make 'X' amount of money.""

Carol Dudley, director of career development for Howard University's School of Communications, is sending job leads to the hundreds of other students and graduates who are scrambling for positions. She said that while full fledged jobs are still hard to come by for post-recession graduates, many are taking advantage of post-graduate internships to get a foot inside with employers.

"The trend I'm noticing is that employers are not yet ceasing all of their jobs but what they are offering are college graduates post-graduate internships,” Dudley said. “They are paid. And you [are] expected to work full-time as a permanent employee."

The benefit to the company is that they don't have the permanent commitment to somebody that may not workout. But at the same time, the person interning will have an opportunity for permanent employment after their internship ends, which is typically in about 8-12 weeks.

Internships are good for temporary income, but they are not stable.

Jan Challenger, a recent graduate from City University New York- Brooklyn College, will be working on a 10-week paid internship for a company in Philadelphia for the summer.

Unfortunately, she's not counting on getting hired afterward.

"I wanted a job but because they are in bankruptcy even if I do well I won't get a job,” Challenger said. “After that, I really don't know what the future holds."

The internship will still give Challenger some tangible work experience and maybe a few contacts in her field.

"What job recruiters are looking for, and I don't think this ever changes, is someone who is skilled, confident and knowledgeable about the job, someone who has a vision beyond the expectations of the job,” Dudley said. “I think a company is looking for a kid that is work-ready, has an adequate resume that not only establishes leadership and academic preparation but they are looking for someone that has service and overall preparations to be competently employed, including being technologically prepared by being familiar with applications that are used across workplaces."

Dudley advises that a functional resume should briefly demonstrate an applicant's education, relevant work experience, awards, skills and service. She suggests that job seekers be concise in their descriptions and use a clean, reader-friendly format for the layout of a resume. And while not always the rule, she advises applicants to try and limit the resume's length to one page as it makes it easier for an employer to quickly and accurately evaluate their qualifications against the dozens perhaps hundred of other of resumes that may have been submitted for the same position.

She said that the cover letter is one of the keys to the application.

The letter should introduce the applicant and introduce that person's qualities and characteristics as a potential employee that can't quite fit on a resume. The cover letter is pretty much a professional profile that attempts to convince employers to "read further. Find out more about me." The cover letter should be concise as well, no more than three or four essential paragraphs- an introduction, the meat of profile in the body and a conclusion.

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