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Foes Unite Against Comcast-NBC

The merger of NBC and Comcast is providing no shortage of raised eyebrows among the downtown lobbying community. Now it’s causing sworn enemies and marketplace rivals to stand together to oppose the mega-deal, which would put a major broadcast network in the hands of a cable television provider for the very first time.

“Fear is a wonderful persuader,” a Democratic lobbyist said.

The merger’s opponents have formed the Coalition for Competition in Media, a broad organization run by the Glover Park Group that counts among its members Bloomberg, Free Press, Concerned Women for America, Common Cause, the National Consumers League, the Media Access Project and the Writers Guild of America. The Communications Workers of America has also thrown its support behind the group, but for now the union claims it is not playing an active role.

Despite the apparent conflicts among its membership, coalition spokeswoman Christina Reynolds said the fragile organization will go on because “this merger threatens competition, which hurts every constituency represented by our coalition partners, most importantly consumers.

“When groups as diverse as Free Press, the Parents Television Council, the Writers Guild and Bloomberg are all standing together against a merger, that suggests something must be seriously wrong,” she added. “This coalition’s members may not agree on everything, but we are all aligned behind the importance of protecting consumers and preserving open competition in the media marketplace.”

The teaming up of the nonunionized Bloomberg and organized labor is the most curious, K Street observers say. The news provider’s legions of print, online and broadcast journalists are a perennial target of labor bosses. But in June, Bloomberg, the Writers Guild of America-West, the communication workers union and other Comcast-NBC merger opponents signed a joint letter arguing that the deal “is poised to fundamentally alter the landscape of the U.S. media market.”

“We are a group of varied organizations with many specific concerns with this merger, but we have joined together because the threat of this merger to consumers is so great,” the groups wrote.

According to industry sources, Bloomberg’s primary concern is that a combined Comcast-NBC would give preference to the financial news channel CNBC over Bloomberg Television. Oddly enough, the coalition also includes another competitor, Herring Broadcasting’s WealthTV, a network “devoted to taking viewers on a journey of how wealth is achieved, used and enjoyed” that competes for a similar advertising demographic.

The coalition of unusual suspects against the merger, though, are adamant that too much is at stake to quibble among themselves.

Greg Babyak, a Bloomberg spokesman, declined to discuss the company’s alliance with unions.

“We joined the coalition because of the serious threat to consumers and competition if this merger is approved as proposed,” he said in a statement. “It’s alarming that Comcast, while pouring millions of dollars into lobbying lawmakers, has not addressed the legitimate issues raised by the coalition. We believe they should.”

Communication Workers of America spokesman Chuck Porcari said his union has played a lower-key role with the group in recent months. And he said Bloomberg continues to be a top target for the union’s organizing activities but that “isn’t relevant to the conversation.”

“We’re a trade union,” he said. “Any [non-unionized] organization? Sure there’d be an interest in unionizing.”

Another union in the group, the writers guild, is also continuing to raise concerns about the merger.

“There is clearly broad concern across numerous organizations, including unions, consumer organizations, competitors and content suppliers, that this merger will harm competition,” said Neal Sacharow, a writers guild spokesman.

On its website, the conservative Concerned Women for America applauds the censorship efforts of federal regulators and writes that one of its core missions is to “fight all pornography and obscenity” — a stance that would spark the scorn of fellow coalition member and anti-censorship advocate Free Press. Both groups did not respond to Roll Call requests for comment.

Concerned Women is also an outspoken critic of organized labor, writing on its website July 29 that “Congress Should Oppose Labor Union Power Grab Legislation.”

Democratic staff for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) did not respond to a request for comment. That panel has jurisdiction over telecommunications and consumer issues and has been a focus of lobbying on the issue. But after the deal was announced last year, Waxman told Congressional Quarterly that it “has the potential to reshape the media marketplace.”

On the Comcast-NBC side, Jeff Zucker, who would be CEO of the combined company, said in a statement that consumers have nothing to lose in the merger.

“Consumers of all of our products — on screens large and small — will have the benefit of enhanced content and experiences, delivered to them in new and better ways as a result of this transaction,” he said.

Editor’s note: Roll Call co-produces a weekly television program on Comcast.

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