Why Is Jesse Jackson Comparing Dish Network’s Blackout Of WGN America To Slavery?

June 30, 2016  |  

Sony Pictures Television

Sony Pictures Television

Maybe the All Lives Matter folks are right. Maybe it isn’t always about race.

Just kidding. Those people never have a point.

Besides, this is America. And racism is as American as grandma’s racist apple pie made from the recipe that her grandmother appropriated from some colored folks.

Just ask noted civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. He sees race in everything, including Dish Network’s decision to drop the Tribune Broadcasting Network and, in turn, the WGN America channel from its lineup. Dish is a direct-broadcast satellite service (in layman’s terms, cable) provider. For the unaware, the carriage agreement between the cable provider and Tribune Broadcasting expired on June 13. And of course, money was the issue.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

At issue are fees Tribune is seeking for carriage of its stations and WGN America. In a statement, Dish Network said Tribune was demanding an unreasonable price increase for its local channels, which are available free with an antenna. In addition, an increase for WGN America isn’t warranted because the channel no longer carries Chicago Cubs games and its ratings are down in Dish homes, the satellite broadcaster said.

“Tribune is using local viewers as leverage to raise rates for WGN America—a channel that is in decline,” said Warren Schlichting, executive vice president of programming for Dish.

Tribune Broadcasting, which is based out of Chicago, currently operates 42 local stations (mostly Fox and CW affiliates) as well as the WGN America cable channel. As a result of the breakdown in negotiations, five million Dish subscribers in 34 states lost access to all of its stations.

That’s messed up. But what does any of this have to do with civil rights?

Well, according to Jackson, WGN America produces the television series Underground, which was breaking all sorts of ratings during the spring. And since folks, particularly Black folks with Dish, can’t watch Underground, then obviously the network is “using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man” to hold us back.

No really, he said that.

It’s right here in this letter addressed to Dish chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen:

Dear Mr. Ergen:

While DISH’s decision to pull WGN America from its lineup might seem, on the surface, like a disagreement between two parties – the ripple effect of that decision is greater than anyone might realize. This news is disappointing on so many levels. As illustrated by their critically acclaimed series, “Underground,” WGN America is deeply committed to sharing positive portrayals of African Americans and instilling a sense of hope and positivity at a time when our nation needs it most. Its impact, at the most basic level, is to promote the African American experience in a way that speaks to the next generation-something that the executives at DISH should keep in mind.

For far too long African Americans have been underrepresented and unfavorably portrayed on television, silencing the significant contributions they have made to this country. “Underground” is a crucial part of a brand-new day of diversity on television that sheds a bright light on the bravery, ingenuity and power of the African-American experience, and is being used as teachable moments in homes and history classes around the nation at a time when we need it most. Never before have we seen a serialized program focusing on the American heroes of the Underground Railroad, those who had nothing yet used what little they had to make it to freedom. It is an inspiring and moving narrative that we need to retell again and again if we are to heal this country and the shift the divisive dialogue to one of hope and understanding.

“Underground” not only reached milestones as must-watch art, but it’s also produced measurable metrics in commerce that DISH continues to ignore. Is DISH using the same kind of math with ratings that the old south employed when enacting laws that counted African-Americans as three-fifths of a man? DISH is not taking into account that “Underground” has broken records for WGN America as their highest-rated original program in nearly 18 years, ranked as the top cable program on Wednesday nights throughout its run, and averaged 3 million viewers weekly.

By disparaging the network that created “Underground” and counting out millions of African Americans who watch the show and doubly discounting them by seeking to yet again erase the strength of a people on whose bloodied hands and backs we stand, raises troubling questions.

Every other distributor has recognized the value of “Underground,” and we’re extremely saddened to hear that the Underground train has literally left the station and DISH is not on board. It’s a move that impacts viewers in a way that is palpable and reminds those in the African American community that their stories don’t hold much weight when it comes to addressing differences among partners.

We need to keep hope alive and a decision to put WGN America back on the air will reignite a conversation that America needs to have right here and right now. So we ask that DISH act on Tribune Media’s same fair-market offer that all other cable, satellite and telco distributors have agreed to so we have a platform that allows us to keep the conversation going; a conversation that matters.

I love how Jackson is still asking us to “keep hope alive…”

You know, I love to nail folks for racism. And Lord knows the fight for inclusion and fair representation is a very important cause both near and dear to my heart. But even I have to blink a few times at this one. I mean, I would be more sympathetic to WGN America’s civil rights plight if the station were a minority-owned channel. But not even its general manager is Black (or other). Therefore, what has this got to do with us?

If Jackson was truly concerned about the impact the blackout would have on the ability for the network to share our stories then why isn’t he writing letters to WGN about how it needs to upload this important series to the Internet, where it can be seen by all – for free (blackout or not, the show is behind a paywall). Or better yet, why isn’t he writing letters to Dish demanding that it add more Black-owned stations to its network? Or at the very least, why isn’t the letter addressed to both sides, which seem to be doing a good job of using that old Southern math?

What I’m trying to say is, we see you, Jesse. And using us in this way, isn’t cool.

Charing Ball is a writer, cultural critic, free-thinker, slick-mouth feminist and queen of unpopular opinions from Philadelphia. To learn more, visit NineteenSeventy-Seven.com.

Trending on MadameNoire

View Comments
Comment Disclaimer: Comments that contain profane or derogatory language, video links or exceed 200 words will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section. XOXO-MN
blog comments powered by Disqus