Reel Grrls turns down Comcast funds, cites free expression

Reel Grrls, the Seattle nonprofit that nearly lost its summer camp funding from Comcast because of an unflattering tweet, has decided not to accept money from the cable giant.

In a statement Friday, executive director Malory Graham said Comcast’s decision to take away funds and then to restore them after media attention raised too many concerns.

On Thursday, Comcast apologized for the actions of a local executive in Washington State, who told Reel Grrls a critical tweet of the company cost the nonprofit its sponsorship for a summer camp that teaches teenage girls about filmmaking.

Comcast said the decision wasn’t authorized by corporate headquarters and that it wanted to restore the $18,000 in funding for the program it has sponsored for three years.

As a recap, Reel Grrls offended Comcast with a tweet that questioned the hiring of a sitting Federal Communications Commission member, Meredith Attwell Baker. The company has received criticism from public interest groups, editorials and late night comedians about hiring Baker just four months after she voted in favor of Comcast’s massive venture with NBC Universal.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski this week asking for more information about Baker’s move to Comcast and if her vote for the NBC Universal merger was a conflict of interest.

The episode and ensuing public relations headache raised questions by public interest groups and readers on social media sites who decried Comcast’s actions as an indication that the company has used its power to stifle free expression.

“Given the serious questions Comcast’s initial decision to take punitive measures on our organization raised about the ability of corporations to stifle public discussion, we have decided to redesign our summer camp to focus on developing films about free press issues,” Graham said in a statement on Friday.

She said Reel Grrls will look for other ways to finance the summer camp. The episode highlighted the need for greater scrutiny of media consolidation, she said..

“Unfortunately, it is exactly this type of public debate that can be squelched by mergers that threaten to raise the price for access to information, limit consumers’ choices in entertainment and news and give large media corporations the power to decide which opinions will see the light of day,” she said.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said:

“We sincerely regret the actions of this one unauthorized employee which does not represent how our company treats our community partners. While we planned to continue their funding, we will respect their decision.”

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

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