Comcast and Time Warner Cable, along with Al Sharpton's National Action Network and the NAACP, were hit with a $20 billion racial discrimination lawsuit by the National Association of African-American Owned Media (NAAAOM) for allegedly blocking equal access by black-owned networks.
The suit, filed in federal court on Friday, claims that the groups collaborated to make Comcast/NBCUniversal appear to fight for diversity, but instead kept 100-percent black-owned networks out of the mix. One of the payoffs, the plaintiffs allege, was the MSNBC show Sharpton hosts, which they say MSNBC owner Comcast gave to Sharpton in exchange for his signature on diversity agreements.
"Comcast spent millions of dollars to pay non-media civil rights groups to support its acquisition of NBC-Universal, while at the same time refusing to do business with 100% African-American owned media companies," the suit reads.
"These payments were a ruse made with an ulterior motive: To make Comcast look like a good corporate citizen while it steadfastly refused to contract with 100% African American-owned channels," it adds.
NAAAOM and co-plaintiffs Entertainment Studios Networks — which claims to be the only fully black-owned content producer and "multi-channel operator/owner" in the U.S. — allege that African American media are filtered through a quota system with inferior carriage terms, while white-owned businesses have open opportunities.
The plaintiffs also claim that Comcast executives specifically said they are trying to keep black media entrepreneurs from succeeding.
"We're not trying to create any more Bob Johnsons," the suit claims one Comcast exec said, referring to the BET founder who sold his network to Viacom for $3 billion.
Though the majority of the allegations stem from interactions with Comcast, the lawsuit claims Time Warner Cable also discriminates against black-owned media, and violated federal antitrust laws by delegating carriage decision-making authority to Comcast -- before their merger is approved by the FCC.
Time Warner Cable said in a statement to TheWrap that it had not been served with the complaint and could not comment on it, but denied that it ceded any current responsibilities to Comcast.
"We can say that until our merger closes, we remain two separate companies, and we are operating in that fashion, including with respect to programming decisions," the statement read.
Friday's lawsuit is the second NAAAOM has filed against major media companies.
The group filed a $10 billion suit against DirecTV and AT&T in December, claiming that "white-owned media has deceptively worked hand-in-hand with governmental regulators to perpetrate the exclusion of 100-percent African American-owned media from being paid for channel carriage."