News Corp. has agreed to form an external diversity council after meeting with civil rights groups about a New York Post cartoon that critics said likened President Barack Obama to a dead chimpanzee.
The company will form a “diversity community council” in New York City that will meet with senior company executives twice a year, News Corp. and the NAACP said Wednesday. It also will include a statement of commitment to diversity in its annual report.
There was an immediate outcry after the Post, a News Corp. subsidiary, published the cartoon in February. The tabloid offered a qualified apology on its Web site, and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch published a fuller apology in the newspaper, but pressure for further action continued.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous called the cartoon an “invitation for assassination” and urged a boycott of the newspaper and the firing of the editor and cartoonist. The Rev. Al Sharpton asked the Federal Communications Commission to review policies allowing News Corp. to control multiple media outlets in the same market.
After the protests died down, there were discussions between community groups and News Corp., which culminated in a meeting on May 19.
The meeting included representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Sharpton’s National Action Network, the National Urban League and 100 Black Men of America.
The heads of those organizations were not present at the meeting, nor was Murdoch, according to a person who was there. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter and asked not to be identified.
The four groups will be represented on the new diversity committee, said News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner. The membership was still being finalized, but Horner said it would also include organizations such as the Hispanic Federation, Alianza Dominicana and the New York Gauchos, which offers after-school programs and is best known for its top-flight youth basketball teams.
Horner said Sharpton, a longtime adversary of the New York Post and the subject of recent critical stories by the paper, will not be on the panel.
Committee members are not paid, Horner said, and no donations are part of the agreement.
Similar diversity advisory boards already exist in Chicago and Los Angeles, Horner said.
“This is an expansion of what we’ve had elsewhere,” Horner said. “The key is we’re always responding and learning from our communities.”
The cartoon, by Post provocateur Sean Delonas, appeared as Obama’s stimulus bill moved through Congress and after a violent pet chimp was killed by police in Connecticut. It depicted the body of a bullet-riddled chimp and two police officers. The caption read: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
It was unclear what effect the agreement would have within News Corp., whose New York Post and Fox News Channel properties have been persistently criticized by minorities as insensitive or sometimes racist.
The Rev. Jacque Andre DeGraff, of 100 Black Men, attended the May 19 meeting and said part of the results will be “what you don’t see … a heightened sensitivity to the concerns of our community.” DeGraff also hoped that they would “cast a wider net” in hiring.
Ultimately, though, “the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “Our community has good reason to be skeptical, and not just about News Corp.”
Maurice Cox, vice president for diversity at PepsiCo Inc., said his company established similar external advisory committees about 10 years ago. “They have paid significant dividends for us,” he said.
The relationship is often tense because the advisers don’t have to worry about offending company executives, Cox said.
“There has to be huge trust” for the committees to be effective, he said. “You have to feel comfortable, your CEO has to feel comfortable sitting across the table from someone who might stare him or her down.”