Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) suggested during a congressional hearing Thursday that partisan politics may be partly responsible for why Comcast doesn’t carry TheBlaze TV.
The Texas congressman made his remarks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposed multibillion-dollar Comcast-Time Warner cable merger, a deal that would hand Comcast control of more than half of American cable subscribers.
TheBlaze TV “has been trying to purchase [a] network that was reported to owe $20 million to Comcast,” Gohmert said, referring to RL-TV, a network that is owned in part by Comcast.
“But that the feeling by some within Comcast was so strong about keeping Glenn Beck off the air, that some reportedly were willing to forgo $20 million that TheBlaze offered to pay off this network's debt owed to Comcast just to keep them off the air,” he added.
Gohmert then cited an email written by someone from RL-TV that said Comcast has stonewalled TheBlaze TV’s attempts to purchase the station in order to keep the network off the air until after the midterm elections. A source familiar with the negotiations confirmed the authenticity of the email to TheBlaze.
The identity of the author of the RL-TV email is unknown, as is to whom it was addressed or how Gohmert acquired it. Representatives for RL-TV and Gohmert did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Quoting the email, Gohmert said: “`I want the ability to argue for Comcast … in trying to get the deal accepted by Comcast that they will not have to put, quote, Glenn Beck on the air prior to the 2014 election cycle, unquote. That may sound hard-nosed but inside of that organization — talking about Comcast — there’s some people who will see it that way. … there is too big a risk, in my view, of getting a flat "no" from Comcast if they smell the possibility that you intend to use the full Blaze platform to influence the American voters this November. Sorry, that’s how they feel about you. I don't, but they do and they're the ones who have to approve it.'”
Gohmert then asked Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen, one of the witnesses at the hearing, whether Comcast has grown so large that it can afford to turn down a $20 million deal in favor of keeping conservatives off the air.
RL-TV is “a network we have 8 percent ownership interest in, no management rights [and] no ability to control the sale of that network. You're reading an email —” Cohen said.
“The question is do you allow the purchaser to be on Comcast?” Gohmert asked.
“The question is the content description under the RL-TV contract with us,” Cohen said. “Let me be clear: You read an email, presumably from someone at RL-TV, who's allegedly reflecting a position from someone at Comcast.”
Cohen said that political beliefs have nothing to do with Comcast’s dealing with TheBlaze TV, but said he would investigate the claims made in the email.
Gohmert concluded his questioning: “You're a smart man and apparently a smart attorney. You understand the consequences of not speaking truthfully before Congress?”
“I do,” the Comcast executive answered.
Lynne Costantini, president of business development for TheBlaze, said in a statement that TheBlaze “has actively sought these opportunities consistent with Congressman Gohmert's remarks.”
“Many independent networks like TheBlaze seek to gain additional distribution by buying or partnering with existing networks that have broader distribution and subsequently rebranding those networks to include content with more viewership and appeal,” Costantini said.
Gohmert is joined in his misgivings about the Comcast deal by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who said last month that the merger could be used to block conservative political content.
“This is an extremely large transaction, affecting both the video market and the Internet market,” Lee said during a hearing in April. “A complicating factor arises given that Comcast owns NBC Universal.”
“Considering the significant share of the video and Internet market that the new Comcast would have, and considering the well-known political leanings of NBC, I’ve heard concerns that Comcast might have the incentive and the ability to discriminate against certain political content, including, for example, conservative political content,” he said, adding that the capacity to do this “could be significantly enhanced as a result of this transaction.”
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