Rock Biz

At&T Censors Pearl Jam. Band Argues for Net Neutrality


I have been pretty quiet these last few weeks as I lie low for the summer relaxing but this kind of stuff really pisses me off. AT&T deleted portions of Pearl Jam’s webcast performance of “Daughter” last Sunday as they closed Lollapalooza due apparently to some anti-Bush statements inserted into the song by Eddie Vedder. According to AT&T as quoted in Rolling Stone’s Rock and Roll Daily:

When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them. 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.”

It is of course extremely ironic that AT&T stresses that they have content managers on hand during these live webcasts to “cut down on excessive profanity since the broadcasts are not age-restricted” and they have committed to posting the full, uncensored version in the future but this would never have come to light if fans hadn’t informed the band themselves. On top of that, if the intention was to cut down on profanity (i.e. swearing) what in the hell did singing lines about George Bush have anything to do with that? Has the name George Bush entered the vernacular as a swear word now? Since when did expressing an idea become profane?

I have a 12 year old son and he is exposed to all kinds of music that comes in for The Rock and Roll Report, some of it with the infamous “explicit lyrics” warning stickers on the jewel box but my approach to “questionable content” is to educate him as opposed to preventing him from listening to the stuff. I will explain that it is either an artistic form of expression, a way for the artist to express themselves in much the same way as the people that they are singing about or quite simply the “profanity” is merely there for the shock factor. Of course this doesn’t always wash with him but the point is it is my job to educate him or even possibly not let him listen to a particular song (although we all know that this will just make a kid seek out that which they are prevented access to so that doesn’t really work). It is not up to some corporate entity to do my job as a parent. If they are so concerned that there may be profanity during a webcast, post a warning and leave it up to the parents to deal with it.

Censorship is insidious. It starts with cutting out “excessive profanity” and then moves to unpopular or contrary opinions until before we know it the corporate controlled media is literally preventing us from hearing the full range of ideas and emotions that are part and parcel of a truly democratic society. The Internet is a wonderful method to give these full range of ideas their due and many people are concerned that the increasing corporate grip on this method of expression will eventually turn the Internet into another form of the excessively regulated, corporate controlled airwaves. This lies at the heart of the argument for net neutrality and it is something that I firmly believe must be legislated into existence before the AT&Ts of the world snuff out this bastion of global self-expression.

Do I sound paranoid? Your damn right I am! The Internet has allowed me to express myself through both the writen word and through the medium of radio, podcasts and perhaps in the future video. I am not beholden to any agency, I do not have to clear what I say to anybody and it is up to those that listen to Rock and Roll Report Radio or who read The Rock and Roll Report to decide if what I say and play has any merit. That is the way it should be. Everybody seems to sprout off in the West about freedom of expression and yet when that expression goes against those in power or expresses a controversial viewpoint, we start hearing about “freedom expression run amuck.” That is quite frankly a crock of shit. If you truly believe what you are saying is valid you should have a soap box to express it. I will decide for myself if it is or is not worth my time and attention thank you very much.

UPDATE! Saw this on Punmaster. While I’m not surprised this just blows my mind.

AT&T ADMIT THAT THEY HAVE CENSORED IN THE PAST. Pearl Jam and their fans were less than thrilled when anti-Bush statements from their set at this year’s Lollapalooza were edited from a Web cast by AT&T’s Blue Room. AT&T soon apologized, saying that the incident was “a mistake,” but are now admitting that they have censored performances in the past. The company claims that they “have taken steps to ensure that it won’t happen again.” Fans are now claiming that some anti-Bush statements were also censored from performances from Bonnaroo earlier this summer, despite the fact that AT&T claim only to censor bad language That said, Pearl Jam used profanity nearly 20 times in the broadcast that was not edited out. Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready wrote on the band’s Web site, saying, “I don’t however believe that a capitalist corporation such as AT&T has the right to subvert the First Amendment of the constitution to which we all are accountable. This happened on the night we played Lollapalooza. I was dismayed to hear that the act of censoring free speech was used to edit our song ‘Daughter’ for a Web cast. Surely the American listening public can discern for themselves what they deem acceptable to hear. We can think for ourselves, AT&T. … Say no to censorship, it leads to dictatorship!”

So I can say “Fuck” but not “Fuck Bush?” My head is starting to hurt…

September 24, 2007 Update! It appears that AT&T are now modifying their censorship policy. They say they will not edit audio content although they might edit visual content if there is “strong sexual content.”

Uhhh, doesn’t this sound like the whole Elvis hip gyration controversy of the ’50s?