AT&T May Have Censored Bands' Political Speech in the Past

Illustration for article titled AT&T May Have Censored Bands' Political Speech in the Past

While AT&T claimed to be just as outraged as we were over their censoring of Pearl Jam's anti-Bush lyrics during their Lollapallooza stream, they might not be being all that honest. They claim that it was a one-time mistake made by an outsourced company. Really? According to Wired's Listening Post, concerts streamed on the Blue Room by The Flaming Lips and the John Butler Trio have also been censored for political reasons. If true, this action coupled with past allegations aimed at AT&T suggests an unnerving pro-Bush political agenda from one of America's biggest telecoms.

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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.

If confirmed, this is a really unsettling pattern. While bleeping out curses is their prerogative, censoring artists' political speech is not something that should be happening. AT&T wants to paint the response to this as reactionary and totally unrelated to prior stories of them spying on people for the NSA and RIAA/MPAA, but in my eyes this all falls under the same overreaching umbrella.

When we asked AT&T for a comment, they released the following statement, essentially fessing up to past censoring but promising to not do it in the future:

It's not our intent to edit political comments in webcasts on attblueroom.com. Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won't happen again.

[Listening Post]

DISCUSSION

Actual text: Amendment I-Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Clearly this is AT&T and not congress. Yes, it is morally wrong to censor, but they are not breaking any laws. The only way to protest corporate censorship is to let them feel sting of the almighty dollar being yanked from their bottom line from their customers.