Alleges 'Institutional Racism'

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NEW YORK ( -- The National Action Network, an African-American group that recently sued ad agencies and the federal govenment over fees, said today it will "take direct action" against Mediacom Communications, a national cable operator.

The group, which is led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, said it will hold a demonstration May 1 in New York where Mediacom executives will be meeting, a spokeman for the National Action Network said.

Network pickup
The Rev. Sharpton's group said it is angered that Mediacom, based in Middletown, N.Y., does not carry The Word Network, an African-American urban ministry and gospel music network based in Southfield, Mich. The network features gospel hours with the Rev. Sharpton and the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, president of the Michigan Chapter of the NAN. There also is a program called Rainbow Push with Jesse Jackson. The Word is carried by other cable operators, including Comcast and Adelphia.

Kimberly Peer, manager

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of affiliate relations at The Word, said that the network had been negotiating for a carry with Mediacom but she was unaware of the outcome of those discussions.

'Discriminatory nature'
"American satellite TV and cable broadcasters such as Mediacom are rife with institutional racism," the Rev. Sheffield said in a statement. "Most broadcasters are unaware of the discriminatory nature of their corporate culture. Bias has become a way of corporate life.

"Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso has not returned calls nor communicated in a respectful manner," the Rev. Sheffield said. "That is why the National Action Network will be forced to commence direct action against Mediacom,"

Phone calls to Lewis Gibbs, vice president of operations at The Word, and to Mr. Commisso and Mark Stephan, Mediacom's chief financial officer, were not returned at press time.

Mediacom Communications is the eighth-largest cable television operator in the U.S., reaching approximately 2.6 million homes and serving approximately 1.6 million basic subscribers in 23 states.

"We try to avoid the protest syndrome when we can," said Sam Riddle, a consultant for the National Action Network. "If we can get it done with a phone call and a meeting, just as we did with Comcast in Philadelphia a week ago, there will be no need for demonstrations. What we are looking for are results, not melodrama and the TV cameras."

Positive black programming
The results of the Comcast meeting included the "immediate" cable carry of The Word, and that it will also work with NAN "on other aspects of what we call 'positive black programming,'" Mr. Riddle said.

The NAN protest in New York, however, hopes to reach beyond just the inclusion of one network. "What we are talking about here is the fact that the industry, satellite TV and cable broadcasting industry is lily white at the top decision making levels," he said.

Mr. Riddle said broadcasters need to have more diversity, in particular more African Americans at the "very top levels," to reflect the "full breadth of America."

On April 8, the Rev. Sharpton said he would file a class action lawsuit alleging the federal government and unnamed advertising agencies colluded to depress fees paid to minority-owned ad shops.

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