AT&T: Why Serial Censorship is a Problem

AT&T apparently censored a recent Pearl Jam show.  This might not be the first time (Wired):

The company has to delete profanity during the all ages shows, but apologized for deleting Eddie Vedder’s anti-Bush sentiments: “We’re upset too, and embarrassed by this mistake which is totally against our policy — of never, ever censoring political speech.”

However, an email sent this morning to Wired News, the Chicago Sun Times, the LA Times, and the Wall Street Journal alleges that AT&T censored the Flaming Lips and the John Butler Trio during previous webcasts:

“I read your article about this and it makes me so angry that AT&T say[s] this is a one time mistake.

“They did the same thing on the webcasts from Bonnaroo in June during the John Butler Trio show when he was talking about the lack of response from our government during Katrina, and also during the Flaming Lips show when the lead singer was talking about how much George Bush had screwed up.  I was at both of those live shows and saw the webcasts later. The sound did not cut out at any other time – only when someone was talking about George Bush or the goverment in a negative way.

“It was not a mistake, it is full out censorship.”

I have calls in to management for the John Butler Trio and the Flaming Lips, and have asked AT&T for a response verbally and via email, and will hopefully be able to confirm or deny this soon (neither show is still posted on the site).

The band itself recognizes fully what is at stake (Consumerist):

Pearl Jam, known for taking strong public stands on political and market issues, published the following on their website and are using the incident as an example of why we need net neutrality:

“This troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media. AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.”

But some of the commentators over at the wired blog really don’t get it.  Here are a few choice samples:

This is stupidest thing I’ve seen all day. This IS NOT censorship–censorship ONLY applies to GOVERNMENT action.

The Constitution does not protect you from Private individuals or companies. And as an American I vote. And I vote with my wallet. I choose not to support a company that chooses to censor information about my government. Sorry AT&T you lost a customer on this.

Both positions are highly problematic.  Where do we get most of our information in this country?  The internet.  The media.  Books, TV, web pages.  Not from the government.  Call it what you will, media corporations potentially control all of the information we access.  That’s control over the decisions we make, from what to buy up to who to vote for and why.

This isn’t a matter for a few dissatisfied and socially aware customers who decide to take their money elsewhere.  It effects everyone.  When an organization with power decides what you can and cannot be exposed to, that is by the book censorship, and the impact can be seen throughout history up to this very day.

If it turns out AT&T is censoring artists, and is only backpedaling now because of the public pressure, then this is a huge deal.  One it cuts their credibility to the ground.

The company has to delete profanity during the all ages shows, but apologized for deleting Eddie Vedder’s anti-Bush sentiments: “We’re upset too, and embarrassed by this mistake which is totally against our policy — of never, ever censoring political speech.”

If they censor artists regularly, then can we believe anything else they say as a company?  Regardless, this throws a dark spotlight on the corporate stranglehold on the media.  We need to take protective steps against censorship.  Net Neutrality is a necessity.  No organization should have the right or the power to restrict speech like this.  Saying “well just go somewhere else” is a dangerous trivialization of the problem.

If we allow political censorship like this, we allow it everywhere.  There may not be a somewhere else to go.

And anyway, why should a large audience be cut off from information just because some corporate suit decides they don’t like the politics of a particular artist?


4 Responses

  1. This would not be the same AT&T that is working hand in glove with the Spy-in-Chief to get around the Constitution? Or the one that got handed a Get Out of Free Jail card from the Congress last week?

  2. This is getting increasingly sinister, what else haven’t they been caught on?

  3. […] Lockdown August 11th, 2007 — RickB And so it progresses, the war on terror that is the brand name covering the new authoritarianism, new terrorism laws that were promised not to be abused, continue to be misused to stifle dissent. The MOD moves with the times and bars troops from disseminating information via the web. And the BBC now browbeaten and bitch slapped by the machinery of the Hutton lever denied funds and playing nice by cutting programs that deal with injustices and uncovering corporate and govt. wrongdoing. Of course corporations and govt. are interchangeable one hand washes the other, MOA hooks together those stories with AT&T taking it upon itself to censor anti govt. popular artforms and this is not an isolated incident. […]

  4. Rafael,
    Isn’t AT&T a joy? Someone should do a weekly write up. Better yet, a wikipedia with info on corporate crimes.

    I’m hoping we’ll find out more as time goes on. My more urgent hope is that this does not fall off the radar, and it produces more pressure on AT&T.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: