Censoring Pearl Jam

A Call to Save the Internet

Last week Seattle based Pearl Jam accused AT&T of censoring lead singer Eddie Vedder during a live webcast of the band’s Lollapalooza show on August 5, which was provided online as part of AT&T’s “Blue Room” concert series. Vedder, performing a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, included the following substitute lyrics that he repeated a number of times:

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

Fans who tuned in to the Pearl Jam performance didn’t hear all of Vedder’s lyrics, as the sound cut out after the front man sang the first line the first time around. In a statement from the band on their official website Pearl Jam condemned AT&T for censoring Vedder’s politically charged message:

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 …

If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations – fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it’s about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

AT&T denied axing Vedder’s lyrics and instead laid blame on a third-party vendor:

The editing of the Pearl Jam performance on Sunday night was not intended, but rather a mistake by a webcast vendor and contrary to our policy. 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.

Despite AT&T’s claim that they do not “edit or censor performances”, the incident with Pearl Jam is a clear indication of what could happen if net neutrality laws are not passed by Congress. The proponents of Net Neutrality want to protect the internet and keep it in the hands of individuals, not corporations. The Bad Guys in this profit motivated game want to control the web and put it in the hands of big telecommunication corporations like AT&T. Now, it’s not that black and white of an issue, but for the most part the Bad Guys are looking to gain more, while the Good Guys (Google, Amazon.com, who will continue to prosper by a deregulated internet) want to protect what they already have.

Right now the debate is heating up with a vote likely to come down in the near future over the future of the net. A lot of elected representatives have not come out one way or another on this important issue. In the days ahead if we abandon Net Neutrality and a telecom bigwig, shareholders, or a Board of Directors decide websites like this one aren’t worth putting on his company’s search engine, or provider package, it could be lost.

The telecom giants very well could decide what is and what isn’t available to be viewed on the internet and could censor content front Pearl Jam or anyone else anytime they please. They could also price the little guys out of the market. They want to be Wal-Mart of the web. They want to control the content and pick what we can see, read or listen to.

There is quite an underhanded campaign going on by Net Neutrality opponents called “Hands off the Internet” who claim to want to protect the internet from regulators and Big Government. In the past year they have even run deceptive ads on blogs and other websites in hopes of pulling internet readers in to their camp. Some of the big names behind these cunning ploys include AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon.

Co-chair of this group is the ex-spokesman for President Bill Clinton and other Democrats, Mike McCurry who writes an occasional column at the Huffington Post. McCurry claims Net Neutrality will kill the internet.

Fact is Net Neutrality is what has gotten us this far. Yet McCurry writes, “The Internet is not a free public good. It is a bunch of wires and switches and connections and pipes and it is creaky. You all worship at Vince Cerf who has a clear financial interest in the outcome of this debate but you immediately castigate all of us who disagree and impugn our motives. I get paid a reasonable but small sum to argue what I believe.”

So how much does this guy get paid? Well, not sure how much the big telecom giants are dolling out, but McCurry charges $10,000 and up per speaking gig, so it’s likely he’s bankrolled by the telecommunications industry. Hands off the Internet wants to destroy the web just like the radio goliaths have killed the airwaves.

When you turn on your TV there aren’t thousands of channels at your disposal. That’s because you have to pay for those channels, they aren’t free — even though you supposedly own the airwaves. The same thing could happen to the internet if guys like McCurry have their way. You’d have to pay for access to the web and each carrier would have much different ideas about what the “web” is. There would be different packages and different sites available per package. Much like cable vs. DirectTV. It would radically change the way the web functions and in the process it would likely leave out alternative blogs and news sites — as they would have to pony up big bucks to have access to consumers. Even if they did, they might not make the cut. Somebody else could decide if it’s a site worth your time or interest.

The internet is a work in progress, spearheaded by innovative and creative people, not big corporations like the censor-happy AT&T. Let’s protect it.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in June 2008. Check out the Red State Rebels site. Read other articles by Joshua.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Binh said on August 15th, 2007 at 6:52am #

    Great piece. I for one miss your blog.

  2. squib said on August 16th, 2007 at 4:42pm #

    Telus, a Canadian telecom & ISP in BC & Alberta was at the forefront of deregulating the Internet, and removing Net Neutrality – however, as was posted on slashdot (I believe), that if a carrier discriminates between packets, they also become responsible for the content.

    thus, if Telus was allowed to squeeze out media downloads they considered violating a license agreement, then they would also be responsible for any illegal material distributed over their network, which would include things like child pornography.

    in the end, they bailed on the idea, most likely until legislation is in place to protect their “investment.”

  3. Manq said on August 16th, 2007 at 4:43pm #

    Amen, sir. Protection of the internet is critical in the evolution of human history. In television Al Gore has created Current TV ( http://www.current.tv ) a syndicated cable channel that plays viewer created content. Hopefully we can avoid the go-arounds necessary to re-stabilize the internet if corporations take over.

  4. bob said on August 16th, 2007 at 7:37pm #

    good guys, bad guys

  5. Wayne said on August 17th, 2007 at 3:07pm #

    Cutting out Pearl Jam, shows how scared they are of the people hearing the Real truth!
    Boycott AT&T, Verizon, Bell, Telus etc.
    Why is that we need cell phones anyway, as they are a total distraction from reality and many companies demand you be on call 24/7. They cost an arm and a leg as you have to sign a contract that’s not in your favour but in your carriers favor, as to cancel early they charge you $200. , what the hell!
    Just call their bluff and cancel en-mass and see how long their shareholders stick around!
    Try for Aug 19-21, 07 to coincide with the gathering of the “Three Stooges”
    All Corporate bullies and not one good Corporate Citizen. Why? GREED!
    We have consumer Power = “People Power”

  6. Wayne said on August 17th, 2007 at 6:06pm #

    1961 and 46 years later it’s comming to pass

  7. Garry said on August 18th, 2007 at 9:21am #

    “We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to office.”: –
    Aesop, c.550 B.C.

    America has not just a “petty thief” running it, but a criminal the likes of which we have not seen since Stalin and Hitler.

    But Bush isn’t that bright so who is pulling his puppet strings?

    If people don’t stand up and fight for what is right then their lives will be a misery under the New World Order?

    “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”
    Albert Camus. 1913 – 1960. French Writer

  8. Wayne said on September 4th, 2007 at 8:12pm #

    Corporate greed = a trip to the bottom.
    I’m watching “Who Killed the Electric Car”