By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
‘As the meeting approached and after five months of preparations, CNN canceled the session only hours before the scheduled time of the meeting.’
NABJ President Sarah Glover said she’s stunned that CNN canceled a planned meeting to discuss the importance of diversity and Black representation within the ranks of the network’s executive news managers and those who report directly to the cable channel’s president Jeff Zucker.
“It’s a moral issue,” Glover told NNPA Newswire in an interview on Tuesday, March 12.
“The diversity discussion is not a buzz word, it’s really serious discussions we are seeking to have with major media companies,” she said.
After AT&T agreed to a deal last summer to acquire Time Warner and CNN, NABJ officials reached out to AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson who responded in a positive manner, Glover said.
The plan was to then meet with CNN and Zucker – a meeting was scheduled for Jan. 22.
A pre-meeting between CNN and NABJ officials was held two weeks earlier to discuss the Jan. 22 agenda.
In the pre-meeting, NABJ shared who would be present at the Jan. 22 meeting, which included news personality and NABJ Executive Board Member Roland Martin as part of a four-person NABJ delegation.
At that time, CNN did not express any concerns, Glover said.
“It was not until the business day before the Jan. 22 meeting that CNN expressed their desire to not have Roland Martin present,” she said.
Glover and NABJ said that was insulting and they would not dis-invite anyone from their delegation, particularly a longtime board member like Martin.
As the meeting approached and after five months of preparations, CNN canceled the session only hours before the scheduled time of the meeting.
“We’ve had discussions with other broadcasting companies as well as print and digital companies and we’ll continue to have those discussions,” Glover said.
She said CNN likely doesn’t understand that the meetings are part of NABJ’s three-year Strategic Plan, which includes bringing advocacy issues front and center.
“We’re implementing the strategic plan which is very thoughtful and it’s important to our mission,” Glover said.
Other networks like Fox, CBS, ABC, and NBC all have complied with NABJ requests for meetings, Glover said.
Other organizations like the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push, and Color of Change have reached out to NABJ offering their support, Glover said.
The recent headlines about the refusal by Zucker, who has declined comment, has made public what was meant to remain private, Glover said.
“The majority of our meetings, no one hears about, but it is highly unusual that a news organization would place constraints upon how they will engage us,” she said.
Color of Change, a national online force driven by more than 1.4 million members, joined NABJ’s call for a civil rights audit at CNN and more black representation among its news leadership.
“When there’s more of us in the room fighting for our stories to be told, and raising awareness about the issues impacting our communities, we have an even better chance of creating change and ending the practices that unfairly hold us back,” Color of Change officials said in a statement.
“We support NABJ as they call for a civil rights audit and put pressure on CNN President Jeff Zucker to make diversity and inclusion improvements at the network.”
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., with more than 120,000 members, has also joined the fight.
In a statement, the organization said it “shares the concern of the National Association of Black Journalists about the lack of black representation within the ranks of CNN’s executive news managers and direct reports to CNN President Jeff Zucker.
“As an organization specifically concerned with the issues affecting the African-American community, we lend our voices to those who would encourage constructive dialogue regarding creating an inclusive workplace at CNN,” Alpha Phi Alpha officials said.
The Rev. Jackson tweeted that CNN has no African American executive producers, vice presidents on the news side, or senior vice presidents.
“Don’t crush the darkness. Fight back with shifting eyes,” Jackson said.
In a tweet, NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., wrote, “NNPA Supports the NABJ and NAACP.” Chavis used the hashtags, diversity and inclusion and end racism.
NNPA’s Chairman and Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell, also spoke out.
“The National Newspaper Publishers Association is in full support of equal and fair treatment of blacks in the media and stands solidly behind NABJ’s efforts to diversify CNN,” Leavell said.
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) added that, “the people of this country depend on our news organizations to deliver unbiased & fair reporting. That is impossible without equal representation. I stand behind NABJ’s investigation into the lack of diversity within CNN’s leadership.”
And, in its statement, the NAACP said, “CNN’s lack of black representation in leadership roles is troubling and another example of the media industry’s reluctance to address an issue that continues to plague newsrooms across the country.”
Meanwhile, Glover said the NABJ will continue to focus on diversity and inclusion issues.
“The meeting will be up to CNN now,” she said. “My focus is on improving diversity in the newsroom and seeing measurable improvement at CNN. That’s why CNN is on our special monitoring list and they will remain on there until there’s improvement.”