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Black media, business and civil rights groups take issue with Byron Allen's lawsuit, attacks

(March 10, 2015) Three national African-American organizations have issued a joint statement in response to the $20 billion lawsuit filed by television producer Byron Allen charging Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, the NAACP, the National Urban League, Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, and former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker with racial discrimination.

In the lawsuit Allen alleges that his production company, Entertainment Studios, is "being denied the same opportunity to contract with Comcast as white-owned channels. Comcast is intentionally treating 100% African American-owned media differently on account of race."

The lawsuit further claims "Comcast has paid Reverend Al Sharpton and the National Action Network over $3.8 million in 'donations' and as salary for the on-screen television hosting position on MSNBC that Comcast awarded Sharpton in exchange for his signature" on a Memorandum of Understanding saing that Sharpton would not challenge Comcast's proposed merger with NBC Universal in 2010.
In radio and TV interviews, Allen has said Sharpton was "bought off" by Comcast because he was the "least expensive Negro," and that "President Obama was bought and paid for."

The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, National Bankers Association and U.S. Black Chambers today issued a joint statement on Allen's lawsuit, urging the producer to "redirect" his criticism of civil rights leadership and focus on encouraging corporations to increase their business commitments to African-Americans. The three groups had come together in 2010 to raise concerns about the Comcast/NBCU merger.

"We have joined together to issue this statement, because we believe this lawsuit needs to be discussed, but not for the reasons it has drawn so much media attention," said Jim Winston, President of NABOB, which for 40 years has represented African-American radio and TV owners. "The media should be focusing on the underlying issue, the lack of business being done with African American owned businesses by major corporations. In particular, Comcast missed a huge opportunity to advance that goal when it failed to sell any of its cable television systems to companies owned by African-Americans."

"Rev. Sharpton and the organizations attacked by Mr. Allen do important and extensive work on behalf of the African-American community," said Winston. "We hope that the Byron Allen lawsuit will get the discussion ... focused on business and not personal attacks against the leadership of America's foremost civil rights organizations.

"Our organizations have always worked closely with these civil rights organizations in the past, and we look forward to doing so in the future," said Michael Grant, President of the National Bankers Association. "We hope that Mr. Allen will redirect his attention to the corporate practices he highlighted and not to the civil rights organizations."

Al Sharpton and the National Action Network responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:

"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."

Comcast issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

"We do not generally comment on pending litigation, but this complaint represents nothing more than a string of inflammatory, inaccurate, and unsupported allegations.  We are proud of our outstanding record supporting and fostering diverse programming, including programming from African American owned and controlled cable channels.  We currently carry more than 100 networks geared teeoward diverse audiences, including multiple networks owned or controlled by minorities.

"Diversity organizations from across the country, including numerous diverse programmers, have supported our transaction with Time Warner Cable.  That deal will extend our industry-leading commitment to diverse programming to even more homes across America, one of the reasons so many groups in the African American community have supported it.

"Comcast has engaged in good faith negotiations with this programmer for many years.  It is disappointing that they have decided to file a frivolous lawsuit.  We will defend vigorously against the scurrilous allegations in this complaint and fully expect that the court will dismiss them."

A copy of the full lawsuit can be read here.

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