Tegna shareholder says company has pattern of racial bias, insensitivity

Tysons, Virginia-based television station owner Tegna Inc. has been called on by one of the company’s largest shareholders to open its books and records to investigate what is being called a broad pattern of bias and racially-insensitive behavior.

The letter to Tegna’s board of directors is from New York investment management firm Standard General, which holds 7% of Tegna stock.

In it, Standard General cites both media reports and an anonymous letter from a former Tegna employee citing numerous alleged incidents of discrimination, race-related job terminations and insensitive behavior by Tegna managers at several of its television stations.

Standard General said allegations show “the root of racist behavior within Tegna/Gannett are ugly and run deep” and are reflected in “egregious practices with Tegna/Gannett dating back decades.”

Gannett previously owned the broadcast business that is now standalone Tegna. Tegna spun off the publishing business as Gannett in 2015.

In an emailed statement attributed to a Tegna spokesman, Tegna responded by saying its record is not perfect, but said the company has made significant progress in recent years, and increasing diversity, equity and inclusion continues to be a top priority across the company and its 64 stations across the country.

“The distorted picture of Tegna and its stations painted by Standard General to advance its ill-conceived proxy fight will not distract from our significant focus on DE&I as well as our strong financial performance,” the statement said.

Standard General had earlier sought to replace several Tegna board members with its own nominees.

Tegna’s stations include WUSA9 in the D.C. market.

The letter from Standard General comes one month after the company called for an investigation into a 2014 incident in which CEO Dave Lougee mistook a Black executive for a hotel car valet. Lougee, then Gannett’s president, in a letter to employees said he had immediately apologized for the incident.

Standard General’s full letter to Tegna and allegations made in a six-page letter from a previous employee is posted as a Securities and Exchange filing online.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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