The Writers Guild of America East, which represents TV and digital media news writers, among others, wants Comcast to contribute $10 million a year to "public programming" as one of the prices of government approval of the NBC Universal joint venture, though it would still prefer that the government not approve it.
Comcast counters that it is up to Congress and noncoms to figure out funding and that it supports noncommercial stations via carriage commitments and programming partnerships.
In a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, assistant attorney general Christine Varney (she is heading up the merger review at Justice) and key lawmakers, union president Michael Winship and executive director Lowell Peterson said that Comcast should have to kick $100 million over the next 10 years into a fund for independently produced news and public affairs programming administered through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting "or another entity."
They argue that the merger of Comcast and NBCU would further a trend in which diverse voices have been reduced, investigative journalism has all but vanished, and coverage sensationalized.
One way to counteract that trend, they argue, and have argued more generally before, is for consolidated media in general to contribute to independent funding of public TV, and in this case Comcast/NBCU in particular.
While the proposal is to give the money to public TV, Peterson told Multichannel News that they were open to the idea of Comcast or NBCU participating in creating the programming.
Comcast was still preparing a response at press time, but it has already pledged to add 10 new independent networks and in its initial public interest statement said it would increase news and public affairs programming (by 1,000 hours) on NBC stations. It has gained support of the Independent Film & TV Alliance and the Directors Guild of America for its pledges on independent programming.
WGAE represents news writers at PBS, as well as some at Fox, CBS and ABC. It does not represent any NBC station writers, according to Peterson.
"As an original and ongoing supporter and funder of C-SPAN, Comcast has had a long commitment to independent public affairs content," the company said in a statement. "Comcast has already pledged to make local news and other local programming available to consumers at more times and on more platforms than ever before and to facilitate and encourage the creation on new local programming and to add even more independent networks to our video systems.
"While this is a thoughtful proposal, it ignores the fact that, taken as a whole, the range of public interest commitments already made by the combined companies promises to deliver more diverse programming and more independently produced programming than any entity has ever committed to before. Many of these commitments were the product of direct conversations with independent programmers such as the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the leadership of diverse communities, as well as commitments the companies volunteered on the day they announced their transaction.
"It is up to the Congress and the public broadcasting community to determine the appropriate ways to fund public broadcasting to meet its mission. Comcast continues to support public broadcasting through its carriage commitments, worked out with public broadcasters during the digital transition, and through various creative programs and partnerships."