Comcast yanks funds for nonprofit after tweet about FCC Baker’s jump

Update at 2:15 p.m.: Comcast says it was wrong to take back the funding for the Reel Grrls camp and that it wants to restore the money. New details after the tweet below:

Careful what you tweet, especially if you rely on Comcast.

That’s the message received by the Seattle-based nonprofit Reel Grrls, who was told it had lost $18,000 in funding for a teen summer film camp after it sent a tweet about FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker’s jump to the cable and media giant.

In an e-mail to Reel Grrls, Steve Kipp, a vice president of communications for Comcast in Lynnwood, Wash., wrote:

“Given the fact that Comcast has been a major supporter of Reel Grrls for several years now, I am frankly shocked that your organization is slamming us on Twitter. I cannot in good conscience continue to provide you with funding — especially when there are so many other deserving nonprofits in town.”

The offensive tweet:

“OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!? http://su.pr/1trT4z #mediajustice”

After media inquiries, Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said Thursday afternoon in a statement that Comcast had made a mistake.

“We are in the process of reaching out to ReelGrrls in Seattle and let them know the funding the organization has received from Comcast is not in jeopardy and we sincerely apologize for the unauthorized action of our employee,” Fitzmaurice said. “This is not the way Comcast behaves toward its nonprofit partners.”

In a phone interview, Reel Grrls executive director Malory Graham said she had received voice mails from Comcast and “are thrilled to get an apology.” But she said she’s still reviewing the situation and hasn’t talked directly wtih th company about restoring funds.

Graham said that when Comcast’s Kipp said money to the group would be pulled, she feared they would have to cancel their summer program, which allows 15 teenage girls to produce films about nonprofits.

The group didn’t think their tweet was offensive. And she said the group is surprised that the nation’s biggest cable and Internet provider — who now owns massive movie and television properties through NBC — is patrolling their speech on social media.

“As an independent nonprofit focused on media issues, we chose to express our concerns with others interested in this issue in our community on Twitter,” Graham said. “We are saddened that Comcast’s reaction to this debate over ideas was to punish local youth by defunding a program that offers young women in our community an opportunity to turn their summers into life-changing experiences.”

FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker’s hiring by Comcast has drawn criticism from late-night TV comedians, public interest groups and newspaper opinion pages.

Public interest group Free Press has launched a campaign to get lawmakers to investigate the move by Baker, a junior Republican member, to join Comcast as a senior vice president of its lobbying operation just four months after bemoaning how long it took the FCC to approve the deal.

She also accused the agency for going overboard on conditions for the deal. She said requirements that Comcast play fair on how it offers programs to Internet television providers such as Netflix, YouTube and Apple iTunes was heavy-handed, given the newness of the online marketplace.

Baker has defended her job decision, saying she’s done nothing illegal. That’s true. She can come and go as she pleases. She is not allowed to lobby the FCC for two years, though she can lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But her real value to Comcast comes from her Web of connections and knowledge of how the FCC works.

As for Reel Grrls, Graham said three girls who had signed up for the camp are planning to come in voluntarily to create a film about Comcast’s decision to pull their funding.

Reel Grrls has now posted a video on YouTube addressing Comcast’s decision:

Related Stories:

FCC’s Baker goes on the defensive

Comcast creates JV with NBC Universal

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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