Wednesday, August 8, 2007

AT&T vs. Pearl Jam

When does a state fall into the roll of a repressor? For example, in the eighties, the West would guffaw at news articles which appeared in Правда, the National Soviet newspaper. The translation of ‘Pravda’ is “the truth” but the information in its pages was anything but because the government made sure that any media coverage which it considered to be counterproductive was deleted and censored. This made the Soviet Union appear to be a repressive state.

We laughed because something like that was unthinkable in the West, where freedom of the press is a pillar of our beliefs in a free society, where freedom of the press is a part of The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and where freedom of the press embodies the ability of the individual to make up his mind about what he believes and what he does not believe.

To jog our collective memories, here is the text of The First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It says very clearly, “abridging the freedom of the press.” Nothing ambiguous about that at least. Now let me digress a moment. Three years ago during the run up to the Republican national Convention in 2004, the city of New York and specifically Republican Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly denied groups of protesters who wished to gather peacefully and to protest, the right to do so. There was no explanation and no cooperation from the city and groups such as UFPJ eventually gave up trying to obtain permits after being stonewalled by the New York City Police Department for months. In fact Bloomberg denied the application virtually as soon as it was submitted. Let’s look at our First Amendment again:

“Or the right of people peaceably to assemble.”

Which part of that statement did Bloomberg not understand? But until recently he belonged to the party that tramples all over the constitution to get what it wants even if it means soliciting and roping in the big bucks industry. I can already hear the Neoconservatives calling me paranoid but I assure you that it’s true and it is part of what we can observe as being the right shift that has taken place in America, a shift so strong that it reeks of fascism. One of the cornerstones of fascism is corporatism and it has taken root in Dick Cheney’s United States. The Enron scandal and the Energy Bill that emerged form weeks of secret locked door meetings between Cheney and the Energy Corporations was a leading example of it. More recently we discovered the AT&T Narus scandal. The Narus, if you recall, is a device which is designed to ‘read’ vast amounts of data for example in email and to analyze and save the choice bits that fall within a certain parameter. It is called data mining and the FBI and the CIA do it. What is scary about the Narus project is that a private corporation is doing it at the behest of the government. That’s the first step towards fascism, which in turn is not very different to the way the Politburo ran the communist Soviet Union.

What does all this have to do with Pearl Jam and the First Amendment? The link is to be found at AT&T, as reported on CMJ:

According to
Pearl Jam's website, portions of the band's Sunday night set at Lollapalooza were missing from the AT&T Blue Room live webcast. Fans alerted the band to the missing material after the show. Reportedly absent from the webcast were segments of the band's performance of "Daughter," including the sung lines "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush find yourself another home."

When AT&T were asked about it they replied that the material was indeed missing from the webcast, and that it was mistakenly cut by AT&T's content monitor.

So my question is, what are the parameters for the content monitor, so that the only thing they cut out is negative information about the country’s leader and who is it who sets those parameters. I also want to know why we laughed at Pravda in the eighties.

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