African-American media group sues Comcast, Time Warner, Al Sharpton for $20 billion

By Hollie McKay
Published February 24, 2015

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LOS ANGELES – A group representing black-owned media companies said two media conglomerates paid off Al Sharpton to make their merger look good.

While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to decide whether media giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable can merge as proposed, the National Association of African-American Owned Media group has filed an explosive $20 billion lawsuit against the companies – and MSNBC host Al Sharpton -- for allegedly discriminating against black-owned media.

The complaint, filed in California on Friday, also names an array of African-American advocacy organizations for partaking in the “devious” discrimination. The plaintiff says it is a group that seeks to “unite voices across the communications and entertainment industries to fight for economic inclusion, including equal access to distribution, investment capital, sponsorship, and other critical resources.”

The suit alleges that Comcast’s memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with non-media civil rights groups, including the NAACP, National Urban League, Sharpton and Sharpton’s National Action Network, further “facilitate Comcast’s racist practices and policies in contracting – or, more accurately, refusing to contract – with 100 percent African American-owned media companies.”

It claims that, to date, the only 100 percent African American-owned channel Comcast has agreed to broadcast is the Africa Channel, “with only limited distribution and channel carriage fees.”

“To obtain support for the NBC-Universal acquisition and for its continued racist policies and practices, Comcast made large cash ‘donations’ to the non-media groups that signed the MOUs. For example, Comcast has paid Reverend Al Sharpton and Sharpton’s 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,” the suit continues. “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 percent African-American owned media companies.”

According to the suit, such payments contained an ulterior motive – “to make Comcast look like a good corporate citizen while it steadfastly refused to contract” with fully African-American owned channels, and also claims that the media conglomerate refuses to treat these channels “the same as similarly-situated white-owned media companies.”

“White-owned media in general – and Comcast in particular – has worked hand-in-hand with governmental regulators to perpetuate the exclusion of 100 percent African American-owned media from contracting for channel carriage and advertising,” the suit alleges.

“This has been done through, among other things, the use of ‘token fronts’ and ‘window dressing’ – African American celebrities posing as ‘fronts’ or ‘owners’ of so-called ‘Black cable channels’ that are actually majority owned and controlled by white-owned businesses.”

The suit goes on to note that Comcast is a “major player in Washington, D.C. and has used its clout and money to buy approval for its acquisitions and sweep its racist practices under the rug,” alleging that Comcast’s chief lobbyist and executive vice president, David Cohen, is the “mastermind behind Comcast’s many conflicts of interest.”

A representative for Comcast told FOX411 that while they do not generally comment on pending litigation, 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 toward diverse audiences, including multiple networks owned or controlled by minorities,” continued the statement. “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.”

The National Action Network told The Hollywood Reporter that they have yet to be served with court papers, but dismissed the claims against them as “frivolous” and declared their intention to “gladly defend our relationship with any company as well as to state on the record why we found these discriminatory accusations.”

California-based attorney, Leo Terrell – who is not connected to the suit – says it has “no merit whatsoever.”

“The plaintiffs have no direct evidence of discrimination. The lawsuit is nothing but accusations without factual support of racial motivation,” he told FOX411. “Had the plaintiffs approached me for representation, I would not take their case.”

In December, the National Association of African-American Owned Media also filed a similar $10 billion racial discrimination lawsuit against AT&T and DirecTV.

"It is appalling, deeply upsetting and totally unacceptable now and moving forward that economic exclusion of 100 percent African American-owned media continues to be perpetuated by these behemoth media conglomerates and their persistent, rigid refusal to contract with 100 percent African American owned media," Mark DeVitre, President of NAAAOM, said in a statement at the time.