Washington -- About 250 people organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton rallied in
front of EchoStar Communications Corp.'s office here to protest the company's
decision to not carry Word Network.
Sharpton lit into EchoStar and its CEO, Charlie Ergen, for not picking up the
urban ministry and gospel channel, and he also complained about how blacks are
portrayed on television.
Noting that 30 percent of EchoStar viewers are 'people of color,' Sharpton
encouraged the protesters to use their market power to 'change the dial and
cancel service,' and he pledged to take his message to the advertising
'We've come to tell EchoStar that their star will set and it will not be seen
in our galaxy. You will cut us in, or we will cut you out,' Sharpton said,
drawing cheers from the protesters.
Sharpton said in an interview that he plans a similar protest at EchoStar's
Littleton, Colo., headquarters sometime within the next few weeks, adding that
he would also target cable operators that aren't carrying Word.
Carrying placards, the protesters shouted 'No justice, no peace,' 'We're
dissin' the dish,' 'Charlie Ergen, go to hell,' and several other chants.
EchoStar responded to the rally by sending out a press release that touted
two other public-interest channels it recently picked up: CoLours Television
Network and StarNet. It wasn't able to carry Word 'because the number of
qualified applicants exceeded the number of public-interest channels available
for 2001,' the company said in the press release.
Word is currently carried on DirecTV Inc. Following approval of EchoStar's
merger with DirecTV, EchoStar subscribers will eventually receive Word, EchoStar
spokesman Marc Lumpkin said. But it will take two or three years for the company
to create a uniform programming lineup, he added.
Launched in February 2000, Word counts about 4.5 million cable subscribers,
mostly on AT&T Broadband and Time Warner Cable digital systems, vice
president of marketing Betsy Kellman said. The network also reaches about 6
million broadcast viewers, she added.
The nonprofit channel is completely ad-free, and it generates revenue from
ministers who pay for broadcast of their sermons, Kellman said.
Cable and satellite distributors are offered the channel free-of-charge, she