Some Democrats worry Discovery-WarnerMedia merger will hurt diversity efforts

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Congressional Democrats are raising concerns that the proposed merger of Discovery Disca,
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and AT&T’s T,
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WarnerMedia, a $43 billion effort to conquer the streaming world, could stifle diversity efforts in Hollywood and hurt Latinos in particular, who are already deeply underrepresented.

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Democrats, led by Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, wrote a letter to the Justice Department on Monday asking it to consider whether the merger would hurt competition and diversity efforts in workers and the entertainment industry.

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Castro has long supported 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 to investigate Latino representation in the media. The Government Accountability Office, which released its findings in September, Latinos are under-represented in all aspects of the media.

“Part of what’s different about our argument is that we’re centered around the exclusion of many people of color in these companies as employees and often in terms of content,” Castro said.

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Castro said that Discovery has a particularly poor record of hiring Latinos in front of and behind the camera, during a recent meeting he expressed concerns to company representatives.

“I was clear that if you continue to kick people out of your company, you don’t deserve the merger and it is not in the interest of the country to allow a focused boycott,” Castro said.

In May, Discovery announced that it was absorbing WarnerMedia from AT&T, combining giants such as HBO, CNN and HGTV with Oprah Winfrey’s network.

Experts have questioned whether this will hurt consumers, who may spend more money on streaming services in the long run.

In a news release, Discovery said the Warner acquisition will increase investment and capacity in original content and programming and “create more opportunities for underrepresented storytellers,” though the company did not specify how.

AT&T President and CEO John T. Stankey addressed 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 dialogue and constructive dialogue to make people understand that I think what’s said in those letters is really unfounded,” Stankey said. “And I believe that the context of our discussions with regulators up to this point has been centered around those issues, and we feel very good about the data that we have put on the table that it clearly indicates that there is nothing unusual about this transaction.”

Darnell Hunt, 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.

“When it comes to these types of mergers, bigger isn’t usually better, and there is less competition, fewer opportunities for access, because there are fewer gatekeepers. And that’s not a good thing in an industry that’s been the first. It’s outcast and very insular,” Hunt said.

Hunt said the merger would mean job cuts, leaving even more void for people of color to work in high-level positions in the industry.

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And after NBC announced the merger in 2009, Hunt publicly opposed it, saying that promises made by executives to create a more minority-owned network had largely failed.

He suspects that the Discovery acquisition will result in more diversity.

“If they’re thinking about it, I’d love to hear their plan for it, but it doesn’t look like they’re thinking about it,” Hunt said.

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