Comcast Bans Gun Ads While Running Violent Programming
by Judy Kent
Philadelphia, PA / Washington, DC - In March, USA Today and many other media outlets reported that Comcast, owner of MSNBC, NBC and CNBC, would no longer run commercials for guns or ammunition. Chris Ellis, a spokesman for Comcast Spotlight (Comcast's advertising division) explained: "Comcast Spotlight has decided it will not accept new advertising for firearms or weapons moving forward."
Comcast's anti-gun decision comes at a time when gun violence in America is actually declining. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that gun crime has plunged in the United States since its high-water mark in the mid-1990s, but a majority of Americans think gun crime is on the rise.
Comcast operates in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Comcast is telling would-be gun advertisers that they cannot profit through their television medium, yet that is what Comcast does all day, every day. "Comcast is America's largest cable provider, having nearly monopoly control in many areas of the country. By attacking the Second Amendment, it is directing aim at one of America's founding principles." Shows on Comcast's cable and broadcast programming consistently glorify gratuitous displays of gun violence. Comcast profits from violent programming, yet is actively working to thwart gun shops - many of which are small businesses - from legally selling firearms and ammunitions to people who overwhelmingly use firearms in a lawful and safe manner, including in self-defense," noted Danhof. "This is hypocrisy in the highest."
Comcast's actions are hypocritical, the National Center believes. Comcast is telling would-be gun advertisers that they cannot profit through their television medium, yet that is what Comcast does all day, every day. "Comcast executives have a lot of explaining to do," said the National Center's Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof, Esq. "Comcast is America's largest cable provider, having nearly monopoly control in many areas of the country. By attacking the Second Amendment, it is directing aim at one of America's founding principles."
"The National Rifle Association has five million members, and nearly two-thirds of Americans believe in the Second Amendment as a necessary protection against tyranny," said Danhof. "Comcast is engaged in an odd and possibly costly business practice that is alienating many potential customers. What is more, the company is actively rejecting advertising revenue that could increase the cable giant's bottom line. This is a dereliction of their fiduciary duty to the company. Shareholders and potential investors may want to steer clear of Comcast's stock until the company's leadership team reasserts their commitment to shareholder value instead of this rigid anti-gun, anti-Constitution perspective."
"In a 2008 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly ruled that the Second Amendment protects individual American's right to possess a firearm, yet some on the liberal left continue to refuse to accept that reality," added Danhof. "It is a shame that some in corporate America are joining their fringe effort to limit the Constitutional rights of Americans."
Earlier this year, the non-partisan Parents Television Council reviewed the 392 primetime, broadcast television programs that aired between January 11th and February 11th and found that 193 shows had at least one act of violence and 121 shows included at least one act of gun violence.
"What could be the reason for this disconnect? Look no further than Comcast's cable news division MSNBC," said Danhof. "From Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski in the morning, to Rachel Maddow in the evening, MSNBC's partisan rants against gun rights and the NRA seemingly never end. By exploiting tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting, MSNBC's advocacy has helped distort reality and distract many Americans from the truth that gun violence is on the decline."
Comcast isn't the only major American corporation that is attacking the Second Amendment.
• In January, Time Warner Cable announced that it would no longer permit ads that depict semi-automatic weapons or have guns pointed at people.
• Also in January, Groupon cancelled all gun-related deals in North America.
• Last month, GE Capital, General Electric's lending division, cut lending to retailers who primarily sell guns.
• In 2012, Google informed merchants that it would no longer allow listings for gun- and weapon-related items on its Google Shopping platform.
A copy of Danhof's question at today's shareholder meeting, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
COMCAST REFUSES TO PROVIDE INFORMATION TO SHAREHOLDERS
David Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, intends to ask Comcast CEO Brian Roberts at the 2013 shareholder meeting of Comcast why his company used shareholder dollars to fight a shareholder's proposal asking Comcast to prepare a low-cost report, omitting proprietary information, describing the procedures Comcast uses to avoid the risk and exposure of libel, slander and defamation lawsuits.
The proposal had been filed by Amy Ridenour, chairman of the National Center and a long-time Comcast shareholder, after Rachel Maddow of MSNBC falsely accused the National Center, under her leadership, of bribing Members of Congress, a felony. When Amy Ridenour and the National Center requested a correction, they instead received a hostile letter from MSNBC President Phil Griffin that made additional false statements.
"As a long-time shareholder, my wife was appalled," said David Ridenour. "Although she did not imagine Rachel Maddow was going to rush to correct the error, she believed Comcast's and MSNBC's management, the so-called 'suits,' had a corrections procedure in place, if only to avoid the expense of defending libel suits. Instead, MSNBC's president responded with malice, which risked making a libel suit more likely."
"The company showed an utter disregard for avoiding the cost of defending a libel suit," said Ridenour, "and its management, instead of being 'the grownups,' actually made a libel suit more likely." "Rather than sue, however, "she filed a shareholder proposal asking Comcast's board of directors to prepare a simple, low-cost report, omitting any confidential information, describing the procedures Comcast uses to avoid exposure to libel, slander and defamation lawsuits."
"Typically in these cases," Ridenour said, "companies don't mind issuing reports, and will issue them as long as the shareholder drops the proposal. That's not what Comcast did here. Instead, it fought tooth-and-nail, even bringing in an outside law firm to help, against the proposal and thus a report. But why is Comcast's management so dead set against explaining to its shareholders how it avoids libel risk?"
"The Securities and Exchange Commission sided with Comcast, concluding that the media company's strategy to avoid libel risk was a 'legal compliance program,' and thus, immune from disclosure, even to shareholders," said Amy Ridenour, "although we believe the SEC ruled in error. First, media companies avoid libel risk by being accurate in their reporting, not through a legal strategy. They use editors, not lawyers. Second, the SEC has issued guidance saying it will allow proposals of this type on issues of significant public concern. It is certainly a matter of major public concern that networks such as NBC, MSNBC and CNBC try their best to be accurate in their reporting. Unfortunately, however, the tight schedule under which these decisions are made did not allow us the opportunity to appeal what we believe was an erroneous decision."
Since Comcast fought allowing shareholders to vote on whether they wanted such a report, David and Amy Ridenour decided to simply ask Comcast CEO Brian Roberts what procedures Comcast has in place to ensure accuracy in its broadcasting, and protect shareholders from exposure to libel.
Amy Ridenour's original proposal, Comcast's legal team's objections to it, Ridenour's response and the SEC's ruling can be found on the SEC's website here.
"We have raised questions about MSNBC's bias in the past," said David Ridenour, who debated GE CEO Jeff Immelt about MSNBC's bias in 2010 when GE controlled NBC Universal. " But what we're asking about here is not about bias, just accuracy. Surely the left and the right can agree that news networks should strive to be accurate. Certainly shareholders prefer to avoid libel costs." The text of David Ridenour's question, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
SHARP WORDS EXCHANGED AT COMCAST SHAREHOLDER MEETING
Sharp words were exchanged at Comcast's annual shareholder meeting in Philadelphia On May 15th between Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and conservative activists David Ridenour and Justin Danhof, with Ridenour at one point condescendingly offering Roberts help in creating an accuracy policy for Comcast's NBC Universal and Danhof telling Roberts, "you can sit and laugh, but I'm going to finish my question."
Ridenour attended the meeting to ask Roberts why Comcast hired an outside law firm to help it squash a shareholder proposal from his wife, Amy Ridenour, that simply asked for a non-proprietary report to shareholders detailing how Comcast avoids libel suits.
Danhof asked Roberts about a new Comcast policy that bans ads from gun shops while Comcast properties continue to broadcast vast amounts of violent programming, asking, "Why does Comcast's management believe it is appropriate for Comcast to profit from the excessive glorification of gun violence, but not appropriate for gun shops to advertise legal firearms and ammunition to people who overwhelmingly use firearms in a lawful and safe manner, including in self-defense?"
Noting that Roberts was smirking and laughing as Danhof asked his question, the full text of which can be found here, Danhof interrupted himself to tell Roberts, "you can sit and laugh, but I'm going to finish my question." After Danhof did so, Roberts told him that was his point of view and that Comcast was sticking by its decision to ban advertising of guns and ammunition. Danhof replied, "If you're naive enough to think that Americans who respect gun rights aren't gonna vote with their wallets and leave Comcast, you're as naive as you are hypocritical."
Ridenour and Roberts went numerous rounds on the issue of Comcast's accuracy standards, with Roberts at one point saying the FCC has banned Comcast from interfering with the editorial standards of its own media properties. Ridenour, who reviewed the FCC requirements in place when General Electric transferred control of NBC Universal to Comcast, disagreed with the accuracy of this assertion, and added that, regardless, accuracy standards are not editorializing, they are legal standards put in place to protect the corporation from libel suits, and Comcast needs to have them. At one point in the exchange, Ridenour told Roberts that if NBC Universal had trouble devising accuracy standards, that the National Center for Public Policy Research would be willing it share its own standards. Roberts said Comcast would be willing to take a look at them.
Roberts then claimed Comcast does have these standards, to which Ridenour replied, "If you have the procedures, why aren't shareholders allowed to see them?" Ridenour's microphone was then cut off by Comcast.
Ridenour's question, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
Following the meeting, Ridenour and Danhof met with David Cohen, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Comcast. On the question of the original libel, Cohen said Comcast thought it was covered against a libel charge because of a 2006 Washington Post story. While the National Center strongly disagrees, in part because Maddow made accusations not included in the Post story, Ridenour limited his response, telling Cohen that the Post story was very old, and significant parts of it later were proven untrue. Danhof added that even if they believed the Post gave them legal cover, since the story was untrue, what about "ethical" standards? Cohen said ethical standards are more "difficult."
Cohen said he had reviewed the Post article as cover for MSNBC's broadcast, but had never seen any of the other materials that the National Center had sent to Comcast's outside counsel. Cohen agreed to do so if the National Center would send this information to him.
David Ridenour concluded, "MSNBC believes itself - wrongly, we think - to be covered legally, but ethically, they think it's more complicated. They're apparently not holding themselves to an ethical standard."
Amy Ridenour's original proposal, Comcast's legal team's objections to it, Ridenour's response and the SEC's ruling can be found on the SEC's website here. For those interested, this PDF document contains details of the core of Maddow's defamatory claim and Amy Ridenour's response to it (see pages 6-8 of Ridenour's February 7, 2013 letter to the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission).
A link to Justin Danhof's exchanges with Comcast CEO Roberts about accuracy and bias at MSNBC at last year's shareholder meeting can be found here.
A press release with more details about Comcast's hypocritical gun policy can be found here. A press release with more details about the shareholder proposal seeking access to Comcast's accuracy standards can be found here.