Music producer Sean “Diddy” Combs on Thursday blasted Comcast for pointing to him and his television network, Revolt TV, as examples of the corporation’s promotion of diversity and inclusion.
In a statement, Combs said: “While it is true that we are in business with Comcast, it is not accurate to use my name or my network as an example of inclusion. I do not want my name to be used inaccurately so I must speak my truth.”
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The statement also criticized Comcast, which is in a legal battle with Hollywood entertainment executive Byron Allen, for challenging how the Civil Rights Act of 1866 is interpreted in bringing racial discrimination cases.
“Comcast has taken a legal approach that could weaken fundamental civil rights protections," Combs said. “How can Comcast suggest that it champions diversity and inclusion if it attacks the laws that provide the foundation of economic inclusion?”
In 2015, Allen, owner of Entertainment Studios, filed a $20 billion lawsuit against Comcast alleging the corporation refused to distribute his shows because he is black. Many focused on such topics as comedy, cars, courts, and pets.
Comcast has said that it declined to carry the channels because of low ratings. And the company strongly defended its commitment to diversity in a blog post Thursday.
Allen based his lawsuit on the Reconstruction-era law that was passed by Congress after the Civil War so that newly emancipated African Americans could do business and enter into contracts for their work.
Allen’s fight with Comcast “is now about much more than cable distribution,” Combs’ statement said. "It’s about the civil rights of millions of African Americans and other minorities.”
Combs issued the statement at 9 a.m. Thursday and published it in its entirety on his Revolt TV website.
On Nov. 13, lawyers for Comcast asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling that a plaintiff could show that race was one factor, among others, in making a decision.
Comcast argued that under the law, a plaintiff must show that race was the determining reason for an adverse decision that led to a claim of discrimination.
Experts told The Inquirer that a favorable Comcast decision could make it harder for anyone to bring civil rights cases, changing how race could affect lawsuits involving rents, jobs, and education. It would also mean Allen’s lawsuit might not go to trial as he would not be able to obtain emails and other materials through the discovery process.
As for his own experience doing business with Comcast, Combs noted that the relationship began as a condition of the Federal Communications Commission’s approval of the cable company’s purchase of NBCUniversal.
In 2013, Comcast announced that Combs, director Robert Rodriguez, and basketball executive Magic Johnson would each have their own cable TV networks.
“The start we received was important, but it is not the level of support needed to build a successful African-American owned network. Not even close," Combs said. “Since that launch, our relationship has not grown, and REVOLT is still not carried by Comcast in the most affordable packages nor is REVOLT available in all of the markets that would enable us to serve our target audience.”
In response, Allen, interviewed by telephone later Thursday said of Combs’ statement: “I am very proud of him for stepping up to tell the truth.”
“It’s clear to everyone that his statement proves our case. [Comcast] didn’t guarantee a certain level of distribution and subscriber money. They only launched him and he’s been struggling.
"It’s the illusion of economic inclusion."
Allen said he knew of 200 other testimonials similar to Combs’ and “that’s why Comcast doesn’t want us to go to trial. That’s why they’re working so hard in the Supreme Court to make sure we don’t go to trial.”
In Comcast’s blog post, David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer, said: “Comcast is proud of our commitment to diversity and inclusion and the recognition we have received for being a top company for D&I in America.
“We have a strong record for diversity in our workforce, in our supplier chain, in our community impact, and in our programming – both in terms of distribution to our customers and content creation. In fact, Comcast has an unmatched record of supporting diverse and independent networks, carrying 160 independent networks like Revolt, 100 of which are targeted to diverse audiences. We understand that viewers want and deserve greater diversity in and broader access to quality content. And we are working hard to satisfy those customer preferences.”
The Supreme Court is not expected to issue a ruling on how the 1866 Civil Rights Act should be interpreted until at least the spring.
This means defendants could quash a case at the outset by claiming any reason other than race for a contract decision, even if racial discrimination was afoot. This also strips plaintiffs of the benefits of discovery when defendants are usually in control of the information that would prove discrimination.
The Congressional Black Caucus is shocked that the Comcast Corporation, a multinational conglomerate, would take steps to completely gut a civil rights law to protect their bottom line. Unfortunately, it is no surprise that in the face of a persistent racial wealth gap and rising tides of discrimination and bigotry across the country, the Trump administration wants to strip civil rights for Black Americans seeking economic opportunity. We have already lost too much under this administration and the Congressional Black Caucus stands ready and willing to protect one of our nation’s oldest civil rights laws.