Media giant vs. media non-profit: Comcast’s mistaken snap decision

A recent Ars Technica story simply must be read to be believed. The official Twitter account for the non-profit Reel Grrls, based in Seattle, WA, posted a tweet highly critical of Comcast, and particularly FCC Commissioner Merideth Baker’s acceptance of a lobbyist position immediately after approving the Comcast-NBC merger.

The vice president of communications for Comcast, Steve Kipp, took exception to this. So much exception, in fact, that he immediately sent an e-mail to the non-profit slamming Reel Grrls for “shaming us on Twitter” and stating Comcast’s funding to the nonprofit was withdrawn. Comcast’s spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice then says this was a mistake:

“At the corporate level, we had no information on this action taken by a single employee in Seattle,” Fitzmaurice told Ars. In a released statement, Fitzmaurice noted that Comcast apologized sincerely for the “unauthorized action” of their employee.

In the end, Reel Grrls decided to pursue other funding sources, rather than rely on money which could again be withdrawn when the organization says something else Comcast doesn’t like. From the article:

“We appreciate Comcast’s desire to rectify this situation and hope to encourage them to craft a corporate policy that clearly defends freedom of expression in order to ensure that this situation does not arise again,” said Teresa Mozur, administrative manager of Reel Grrls in a statement. “[I]t is exactly this type of public debate that can be squelched by mergers that threaten to raise the price for access to information, limit consumers’ choices in entertainment and news and give large media corporations the power to decide which opinions will see the light of day.”

I applaud Teresa for this decision on principle. It is difficult for a non-profit, particularly an arts-related non-profit, to be in a position to turn down funding. However, I also feel Teresa should never have been in the position to have to make such a choice.

It goes back to Mr. Kipp’s actions on behalf of Comcast, whether approved at the corporate level or not, and which I find to be absolutely despicable and patently devoid of respect for the mission of the non-profits which Comcast claims to support. This kind of heavy-handed action is exactly the reason I’m leery of making blogs like this one entirely funded by advertising or sponsorship.

(Note that by “like this one” I am referring to controversial, on-the-edge, not-for-the-easily-offended posts. As a marketing/PR consultant, I am obviously not averse to advertising in general; I did add advertisements to my other blog Quinn’s Big City in hopes of making it at least a break-even operation by the end of the year. As the topic of QBC is completely different, I endeavor to keep it as close to controversy-free as feasible; alienating advertisers is thus far less of a concern on that blog as it is here.)

Here’s hoping next time Comcast supports a non-profit, they really mean it, and don’t decide on a whim to defund that non-profit over justified criticism. Actually, I have even better advice for Comcast: don’t hire someone straight out of the FCC to be your lobbyist if you don’t like the criticism so much.