Congressional Democrats are raising concerns that the proposed merger of Discovery and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, a $43 billion effort to conquer the world of streaming, could affect diversity efforts in Hollywood and particularly hurt Latinos, who are already deeply underrepresented.
The Democrats, led by Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, wrote a letter to the Justice Department on Monday asking it to consider whether the merger will hurt competition and workers and diversity efforts in the entertainment industry.
Castro has long championed diversity in media, which can include everything from Hollywood movies to book publishers to news organizations. Last year, Castro and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus tasked the government’s watchdog agency with investigating Latino representation in media. The Government Accountability Office, which released its findings in September, found Latinos are vastly underrepresented in all aspects of media.
“Part of what’s different about our argument is that we also center around the exclusion of many people of color in these companies as employees and often times in terms of content,” Castro said.
Castro said Discovery in particular has a poor record of hiring Latinos in front of and behind the camera, concerns he expressed to company representatives during a meeting recently.
“I was clear that if you continue to exclude people from your company, then you don’t deserve to merge and it’s not in the country’s best interest to allow for concentrated exclusion,” Castro said.
In May, Discovery announced it was absorbing WarnerMedia from AT&T, combining giants like HBO, CNN and HGTV, along with Oprah Winfrey’s network.
Experts have questioned whether this will hurt consumers, who may end up spending more money on streaming services in the long run.
In a news release, Discovery said the Warner acquisition will increase investment and capability in original content and programming and “create more opportunity for under-represented storytellers,” although the company hasn’t laid out how.
John T. Stankey, president and CEO of AT&T, addressed the concerns about antitrust violations expressed in the letter during a virtual global conference on Monday, according to a transcript of the call.
“Not to say that we won’t get the dialogue and have a constructive conversation for people to understand that I think what’s been articulated in those letters is really unfounded,” Stankey said. "And I believe the context of our discussion with regulators up to this point have centered around those issues, and we feel very good about the data we’ve put on the table that it’s clearly indicated that there’s nothing unusual about this transaction."
Darnell Hunt, the dean of Social Sciences at UCLA who has spent years researching diversity in Hollywood, said the merger would be particularly troubling for diversity in executive level positions.
“Bigger is usually not better when it comes to these types of mergers, and there’s less competition, there’s less opportunity for access, because there are fewer gatekeepers. And that’s not a good thing in an industry that’s already exclusionary and very insular,” Hunt said.
Mergers mean job cuts, leaving an even greater void for people of color to work in high-level positions in the industry, Hunt said.
When Comcast and NBC announced a merger in 2009, Hunt publicly opposed it, and says promises by executives to create more minority-owned networks largely fell flat.
He doubts the Discovery acquisition will result in more diversity.
“I would love to hear their plan for that, if they’re thinking about it, but it doesn’t sound like they’re thinking about it,” Hunt said.
Galván reported from Phoenix. She covers issues impacting Latinos in the U.S. for the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/astridgalvan