Public Knowledge called "appalling" AT&T's editing of some added, anti-Bush lyrics from a Webcast of the Lollapalooza concert the telco sponsored. AT&T called it a mistake that won't be repeated.
The Web site of Pearl Jam -- the band that performed a variation on Pink Floyd's “Another Brick in the Wall” with some modified lyrics -- was painting the edit as a "network-neutrality" and media-consolidation issue.
The lines cut from the telco’s Web site, it said, were, "George Bush, leave this world alone," and, "George Bush, find yourself another home."
"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," said an item on the site.
"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,” the item continued. "Most telecommunications companies oppose ‘net neutrality’ and argue that the public can trust them not to censor."
AT&T spokesman Mike Coe confirmed the edit but said it was a mistake made by an outside contractor, adding that the company is talking with the band about posting the song in its entirety on AT&T's Blue Room concert Web site, which streamed the event.
Public Knowledge, which has been a proponent of network neutrality, wasn't buying the explanation.
“It is nothing short of appalling that AT&T should take it upon itself to censor a Webcast because it didn’t like the content of lyrics being sung by a band," Public Knowledge president Gigi B. Sohn said. “This incident goes beyond AT&T’s explanation that the blocking of lyrics was due to an overzealous ‘content monitor.' We hope the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and Congress take note.”
Coe said it was not a case of AT&T not liking song lyrics. In fact, he added, the monitor was an outside contractor who was there to edit out excessive profanity in band banter between songs, not to edit lyrics.
"We don't censor these concerts," he said. "What happened was a mistake.”
Coe added that because the Blue Room is not age-restricted and anyone can watch, "we have a two-minute buffer from live to the Web, and we have a policy of reviewing the content for excessive profanity in the banter that is going on, or, say someone ‘streaks’ across the stage."
But this was political speech, not profanity or nudity. "It was a mistake," he reiterated, adding that the company is working through its outside agency to make sure the monitors are "well-versed and well-trained" to ensure that "something like this doesn't happen again."
The Future of Music Coalition joined the crowd criticizing AT&T and calling for Network Neutrality:“This event shows that companies like AT&T will risk the appearance of censorship by turning off the sound on a webcast that's being viewed by thousands of people, just because it works counter to their financial interests. What do you think they will do to protect their financial interests on the web when no one is looking?
It's time for every musician in America to demand protection from the telecommunications companies and their "self regulation.” We need strong net neutrality laws to protect the openness of the Internet, or our music, our views, and our freedoms will be as silent as the second half of the muted Pearl Jam song.”