Thursday, August 09, 2007

AT&T Censors Pearl Jam

It appears that AT&T censored its webcast of Pearl Jam's performance at Lollapalooza on Sunday:

During the performance of "Daughter" the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" but were cut from the webcast:

- "George Bush, leave this world alone." (the second time it was sung); and

- "George Bush find yourself another home."
PJ expresses concern over this action, both because of the censorship but also because it highlights yet another problem with media consolidation. AT&T claims that it was a mistake by a content monitor but inadvertent or not, the censorship still happened. That it was political speech (the most protected of all under our Constitution) is most troubling. Surely the content gatekeeper hired by AT&T to filter the broadcast of an extremely popular musical event knows the difference between blatant obscenities and a couple of lyrics involving the president. If this person bleeped an F-bomb it would be more understandable. However, I find it hard to believe that an individual would be so oblivious to think political speech should be censored. Common folks know this - shouldn't the person whose job depends on this awareness be as enlightened?

This is just a hunch, admittedly rooted in a mistrust of the close relationship between our current chief executive and big corporations, but I am inclined to think that this snafu was less a mistake by an individual monitor than a directive from higher powers. Even if this person had never monitored a single program, I'm sure the first question asked when sat down to begin his/her duties was, "So what gets in and what gets out?"

There's been no shortage of debate over censorship since the Janet fiasco a few years ago. Networks have been very acutely aware of their limits and exercised great control over what gets broadcast, knowing that huge fines could ensue for their failure to be so diligent. It stands to reason that just as conscious decisions are made to allow content to be broadcast, an equal amount (if not more) consideration goes into what is deleted.

The good news, as I see it, is that PJ's concern over net neutrality is greatly mitigated by this situation - for one major reason. PJ has been able to make noise over the issue, the issue has been picked up by several media outlets and people have been talking about it. PJ was able to post the omitted lyrics and, without censorship or pass-through any major media conglomerate, the entire world has become aware of not only the censorship itself but the underlying concerns surrounding it. AT&T might have done PJ a favor; not only have those lyrics gotten far more attention as a result, it has also given PJ a living example from which to express its opposition to media consolidation.