It seems as though you can put a price tag on civil rights and economic inclusion, for Comcast along with the Trump administration that amounts to $20 billion. In the ongoing lawsuit between Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios against Comcast for racial bias, the U.S. Department of Justice wants the lower Ninth Circuit Court of appeals to rethink its understanding of the Reconstruction-era civil rights law. Now Allen’s lawyers could be required to prove that race was absolutely the only reason Comcast didn’t place the company’s channels on its distribution platforms.
The Breakdown You Need to Know
As one of the few black owned media companies, taking on Comcast puts a lot at stake. Herein lies the problem… the DOJ claims the statute being argued calls for the “but-for” causation standard not the “motivating-factor” test used by the lower court. Law 360 reported Allen’s company would have to prove that racial discrimination tipped the scales towards denial and was not just a motivating factor. Entertainment Studios believes it can make its case under both standards. If the DOJ brief is favored by the Supreme Court, then the interpretation of the statute could affect the intention of it to protect African American civil rights.
“Comcast/NBCUniversal teaming up with Donald Trump’s Department of Justice to eviscerate a civil rights statute in the U.S. Supreme Court is shameful, evil, and the epitome of American institutionalized racism,” Allen told CultureBanx.
While Comcast garnered government support for its cause, the Congressional Black Caucus has weighed in on the case. In a statement to the Grio they wrote, “Our caucus is committed to continuing aggressive oversight of the Administration to mitigate the impacts of these dangerous and out of touch policies, which include opening the door to discrimination in contracts.”
Civil Rights & Carriage:
Remember, the issue here is racial discrimination among contracts and there are millions of people impacted. Comcast cable distribution reaches about 22 million subscribers, and they’ve been blocking Allen from getting access to them. The Entertainment Studios media empire consists of 43 syndicated television series, eight cable networks, The Weather Channel, and a movie studio. Currently, there are 50 pay-TV operators that already distribute Byron’s content including Verizon Fios, DirecTV, RCN and Suddenlink to 80 million subscribers.
It’s important to note that carriage disputes are a common practice in the cable industry, with companies like Allen’s who want their channels broadly distributed to tens of millions of cable homes. They want to tap into monthly subscriber fees and of course the potential to sell the cable audience to advertisers.
Cultural TV Contracts:
Earlier this year, Comcast added AFRO and CLEO TV to the roster, which already had Magic Johnson’s Aspire, Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Revolt. These channels were added to fulfill its promise to the government of adding four African-American-owned networks. During the time Comcast was shutting Allen out, they claim their decisions were based on capacity constraints, not race.
There are additional inflammatory claims in the suit, like a Comcast executive told someone at Allen’s company, “we’re not trying to create any more Bob Johnson’s.” Johnson created Black Entertainment Television (BET), and sold it to Viacom for $3 billion nearly two decades ago.
Interestingly enough, The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to act in the $10 billion appeal by Charter Communications with similar claims by Allen, after the company also declined to carry his channels. It’s possible this Charter case is likely to reflect a mirror outcome to the decision reached in the Comcast appeal.
It’s possible that this much more narrow scope of the law can do irreparable damage to millions of viewers, subscribers and most importantly the 153-year-old civil rights statute. “With the full support of Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, there is no longer any doubt that Brian Roberts and Comcast are on the wrong side of history when it comes to challenging our civil rights in the U.S. Supreme Court, and Comcast has completely offended millions of African American subscribers who pay them billions of dollars each year,” Allen said.
Entertainment Studios response to Comcast about the DOJ’s filing that the Ninth Circuit Court’s reading of the Reconstruction-era civil rights law is too broad is due in late September. The ultimate showdown for economic inclusion and civil rights between Comcast and Entertainment Studios at the Supreme Court is set for argument on November 13th.