Music org accuses telco giant of censorship

The bleeping out of political criticism during a live webcast of the Lollapalooza concert last week was no accident, according to the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition.

During a performance by Pearl Jam, carried live over AT&T’s Blue Room site, lyrics that disparaged President George Bush were edited out by a content monitor subcontracted by the telco giant and Internet service provider. AT&T immediately apologized for the edit, saying it was an accident. The content monitor’s sole duty, the company said, was to prevent excessive profanity from going out over the age-unrestricted website.

FMC questioned AT&T’s veracity, saying Monday that at least 20 instances of profanities were not edited from the webcast. Moreover, in a story posted by Wired News on Monday, a “Blue Room crew member” was quoted as saying that editing political content was part of the monitoring mission.

“It’s clear AT&T has not made a mistake — they or the companies they’ve hired to monitor webcasts have engaged in a clear and consistent pattern of silencing free speech,” FMC exec director Jenny Toomey said in a statement. “This censorship speaks to the heart of plans by AT&T and other big telecoms to set themselves up as gatekeepers of Internet content,” she warned.

“It’s not our intent to edit political comments in Webcasts on the Attblueroom.com,” said AT&T spokesman Michael Coe. “Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won’t happen again.”

Coe reiterated the company’s apology to both Pearl Jam and the band’s fans, saying AT&T was not only sorry about the bleep, but also that “we’re upset it happened.”

Blue Room crew members are not AT&T employees, a company official said.

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