Leaders attending the annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition conference on Monday called for a boycott of oil giant BP PLC, a conference sponsor, and for a renewed focus on increasing minority representation on national television news channels, including CNN.
The boycott call is part of an effort to bring together black and Hispanic groups on issues they have in common in the wake of recent immigration controversies. Oil companies' profits and investments must be scrutinized, said Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of PUSH.
"The cost of energy is undermining America's living standards," Jackson said. "That's why we're going to confront British Petroleum, and then on to Exxon and Shell."
In efforts to organize their constituents in the run-up to this fall's elections, Jackson and his allies are "going to focus ... on the energy industry and the media industry," he said.
Jackson made his comments at a news conference on the third day of PUSH's annual weeklong national conference in Rosemont. The conference this year is focused on ways PUSH and its allies believe economic and political equality can be advanced in the United States.
Jackson said BP, which has its North American headquarters in west suburban Warrenville, has a low number of executives and franchisees who are African-American and other minorities. But BP spokesman Scott Dean said Jackson underestimated the number of minorities employed and contracted with the company.
Dean said BP is a sponsor of the PUSH conference for the second year in a row.
"BP has been making tremendous strides in increasing our representation of minorities in wide aspects of our businesses," he said.
Although Jackson said none of BP's gasoline distributors are African-American, Dean said about 20 percent of the United Kingdom-based company's dealers and franchisees are minorities, including African Americans.
As for broadcast news channels such as CNN, Jackson said they have far too low a representation of minority anchors.
"That color lockout has tremendous implications for sensitivity," he said.
Jackson, who was joined by leaders allied with PUSH, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said they are "going to confront the mass media in bicultural joint negotiations" on diversity in broadcast news.
"CNN is committed to offering a wide range of voices on our air and in the selection of stories we report every day," spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said in a statement. "This is a priority for us not just domestically but also around the world and across all of our platforms."
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