Thursday, August 09, 2007

My Verdict: Slightly unintentional, but...

So I guess something strange happened during the Pearl Jam webcast the other night:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the "Blue Room" Live Lollapalooza Webcast.

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.

"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.
Whitney from EW’s PopWatch called the spokesperson for AT&T’s “Blue Room”:
[T]he company's spokesperson told me that the editing at Lollapalooza was not intentional, and was the decision of an "overzealous" web editor at a company AT&T subcontracted to handle the event. "We have policies for profanity and other actions," the spokesperson continued, "but this was a mistake, and we are working with the band to resolve it." They hope to have an un-edited performance online soon, and, naturally, they regret the situation.

That's nice. But the first question here, obviously, is how to keep something like this from happening in the future. One can't help but wonder how Joe Webcasteditorguy determined that Vedder's remarks were somehow inappropriate — according to the spokesperson, the Blue Room's only policy regarding editing is to remove "excessive profanity" from webcasts, based on the fact that they have no age restriction for the website. What I found interesting is the fact that all Blue Room transmissions are running on a two-minute delay, which, unlike your more standard SNL-and-news-broadcasts seven-second delay, must be an agonizingly long time for any editor to stew over a snap judgment — especially if they're engaged in a fierce internal debate about whether allowing the liberal rock star's anti-Bush comment through the filter might get them fired, or, worse, added to some sort of list that could lead to phone monitoring and/or the inability to get on a plane next time they want to visit grandma. And yes, that is a slight exaggeration. But throw in paranoia involving the giant corporation for whom they are working, the opinions/beliefs of shareholders, the chance that you might be providing the dreaded "succor" to the damn terrorists.... Well, one can see where Joe Webcasteditorguy was, maybe, just trying to do what's right.
Art Brodsky at HuffPo had some questions as well.
The larger question is, why do they have a "content monitor?" This isn't TV, where the Federal Cussing Commission is looking over everyone's shoulder. There isn't a rule about what content can get streamed over the Internet, at least not yet.

AT&T is really getting into its role as content nanny in a big way. First, it starts monitoring all sorts of conversations for the National Security Agency. Then it promises to work with the movie studios and NBC to come up with some super software to tag copyrighted material that flows through its network, regardless of how that content is used. Now it puts "content monitors" on its Webcasts.

We must ask: This is the company that want to be left alone to run the Internet as it sees fit? The corporate officials of AT&T like to give speeches and to tell the FCC and Congress that they won't block people's access to content. They made that promise when they bought BellSouth for $80 billion last year. Former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre made it in a speech last March.

They protest too much. Despite the denials from Whitacre and others in the telecom industry, this incident is just one more count in the indictment. Millions of people all over the country have signed petitions and told the government that they don't want companies like AT&T to have control over what goes over the Internet. If you have to ask why, this is why.

As the band said on its Web page: "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."

Pearl Jam has had a lot of hits, but it couldn't write anything more striking than this: "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."
Despite my reflexive “DON’T YOU DARE MESS WITH MY PEARL JAM” instinct, I'm willing to at least slightly believe the "Mistakes were made...just not by us" excuse that this was something of an accident, and I’m glad that AT&T’s working with the band to fix the problem. That said, I hope this issue doesn’t go away after it’s fixed.

The whole ‘webcasting’ idea has been so fresh and neat (“You mean I can watch the closing set from Bonnaroo in my underwear at home?? That’s awesome!!”) that I don’t think consumers have felt like they have a right to expect more just yet.

If AT&T is going to have basically a monopoly over this type of service, then it’s indeed time to start making some demands. The biggest one of all to me is that there really is absolutely, positively no need for removing “excessive profanity” on this sort of thing, being that a) you can find any cussword you want on YouTube and anywhere else, and b) you should probably know what you’re getting into if you let your young child watch a rock concert (HELLLLO, McFly). Plenty of parents brought their children to the concert, and I bet they knew what they were getting into. Besides, if you’re allowing your child to play on the Internet without your supervision, the last thing you have to worry about is them hearing some curse words on a concert webcast. If you take profanity off the table, then some "overzealous web editor" won't have decisions to make other than hitting 'Start' and 'Stop', and this kind of crap won't happen.

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