Sanders Tells Regulators to Block Comcast-NBC Deal

By:  Bill Carter

Comcast is expected to announce a new management lineup for NBC Universal as soon as Wednesday, in anticipation of completing its takeover of the company by the end of the year or early next year.

But at least one senator says strongly that the deal should be blocked by the Federal Communications Commission, which must officially sanction the merger before it can be consummated. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, wrote a letter to the five F.C.C. commissioners, to be delivered Tuesday, in which he denounces the deal.

“The sale of NBCU to Comcast would create an enormously powerful, vertically integrated media conglomerate, causing irreparable damage to the American media landscape and ultimately to society as a whole,” he wrote.

Mr. Sanders said the deal would lead to higher costs to consumers, would damage competition and would  limit the diversity of voices in the media. He suggested that Comcast had doubled its campaign contributions to politicians in order help influence Congressional support for the merger.

Many of his charges echo complaints about the proposed deal by consumer advocates. Congress has no direct authority over approval of the deal, which is in the hands of the F.C.C. and the Justice Department. The deal is expected to win approval, though regulators may impose some conditions.

One of the points raised by Mr. Sanders went directly to the issue of Comcast’s imminent naming of a new management team for NBC Universal.

In the letter, he wrote: “Although Comcast has done little to prove that the proposed merger is in the public interest, it has been busy measuring the drapes at NBC. Despite ongoing review, Comcast has on several occasions announced plans for replacing NBCU’s executives with Comcast staff and restructuring of NBCU’s senior leadership. These actions suggest a disregard for the important and ongoing agency reviews of the merger—or worse, a belief that Comcast has successfully controlled the federal review process.”

On Monday night, Jeff Gaspin, the chief entertainment executive at NBC Universal, told his staff that he would leave after the company merged with Comcast. Mr. Gaspin said in a note that he could not reach an agreement with Stephen B. Burke, the incoming chief executive. Mr. Burke “has determined that he wants to move in a different direction” and “we could not agree on an appropriate role for me in the new company,” Mr. Gaspin said.

Comcast is expected to name the former entertainment chief of the Showtime channel, Robert Greenblatt, as its top entertainment executive.

Mr. Gaspin’s announcement comes on the heels of the departure of Jeff Zucker, who had been serving as chief executive. Mr. Gaspin has been in charge of NBC’s entertainment division since June 2008. He also supervised NBC’s cable channels.

Mr. Gaspin had been thought for a time to be close to securing a role in the revamped NBC management structure under Comcast. But as details of the new executive lineup have leaked out in recent weeks his name did not appear.