Pearl Jam Accuses AT&T Of Censoring Webcast

    August 9, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

When a "live" webcast of grunge band legend Pearl Jam’s Lollapalooza performance didn’t make it to the audience in tact, the band immediately pointed a finger at AT&T, who sponsored and monitored the event, accusing the telecommunications giant of censorship.

What in the future may be viewed as AT&T’s colossal blunder has intensified the Network Neutrality debate as supporters of the cause cite it as proof-positive the company that makes up the backbone of the Internet has at least the ability, if not the incentive, to control what people see and hear.

The offending content? In a medley combining the song "Daughter" with Pink Floyd’s classic "Another Brick in the Wall," lead singer Eddie Vedder altered the lyrics to challenge President George W. Bush:

"George Bush, leave this world alone. George Bush find yourself another home."

No matter your politics, you’d be hard pressed to find an American that wouldn’t support, at least, Vedder’s right to say that – unless you look somewhere deep inside the AT&T headquarters, where the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency are frequent visitors.

Not that that had anything to do with those lyrics not making it over the so-called "live" webcast. AT&T says it was an accident – sort of.
In numerous early sources (this story is about to blow, by the way), an AT&T spokesperson said one of their webcast editors, in an overzealous attempt to police foul language, goofed.

In a statement to Om Malik:

“The editing of the Pearl Jam performance on Sunday night was not intended, but rather a mistake by one of the webcast editors. We have policies in place with respect to editing excessive profanity, but AT&T does not edit or censor performances. We have that policy in place because the blue room is not age-restricted.
We regret the mistake and are trying to work with the band to post the song in its entirety.”

Does political commentary fall under the umbrella of "profanity," then?

Not according to Tiffany Nels, who is quoted in the Chicago Tribune:

"We think it was just a little overzealous. It’s not our policy to edit political commentary."

Policy or not, it happened, and somebody’s probably fired, as this is about to cause a heap of trouble for AT&T.

The band itself broke the news via a release on their website, and they’re not happy about it:

This, of course, 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.

Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of "NetNeutrality."

Worse for AT&T, they effectively used former CEO Ed Whiteacre’s words against him, quoting one of many times the company’s messages haven’t matched its actions:

"Any provider that blocks access to content is inviting customers to find another provider." (Marguerite Reardon, Staff Writer, CNET Published: March 21, 2006, 2:23 PM PST).

But as the band notes, not even choice of another provider is really true. Even if you did go with another provider, guess who owns the backbone, and who, ultimately, controls access? We suppose this is another example of the "healthy" competition that exists in the telco industry., which has now signed 1.5 million supporters to the support of Net Neutrality, says this AT&T already playing gatekeeper in the absence of neutral assurances:

The moral of this story is never trust AT&T at their word. The company acts in bad faith toward the public interest and will do whatever it can get away with to pad it’s bottom line — including sacrificing the freedoms its users have to choose where they go, what they watch and whom they listen to online.

It is also a glimpse of a future poorly controlled by the Federal Communications Commission, which tends to favor the telecom giant, and which tends to support, under the lead of Chairman Martin, more censorship and speech regulation, even on subscription television channels.

The only line of defense, then, is Congress, who we hope, at least in this matter, won’t severely disappoint us…their track record notwithstanding.

On a lighter note, check out this interpretation of Pearl Jam’s famous non-lyrical "Yellow Ledbetter." Maybe there’s nothing in it that AT&T can object to.