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AT&T stiffed for suppressing freedom of speech

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AT&T has taken the bait laid by a San Francisco grassroots organisation which supports open cable access. The Open Access Alliance, in connection with the Bay Area Open Access Coalition, purchased cable airtime for a TV ad favouring open cable access, which AT&T, through its subsidiary TCI Cable, promptly declined to run. The telecoms behemoth characterised the ad as "inappropriate." Duh. The war of words opened Wednesday morning as the Open Access Coalition accused Ma Bell of censorship, thereby publicising their views more effectively than the ads in question would likely have done. The victim-rhetoric was shallow and overstated. "We live in a free and open democracy, where our right to express our opinions is cherished," the Coalition's director, Katie Roper, complained. "Allowing one company to become the Orwellian Big Brother to manipulate the cable airwaves and the Internet is plain wrong and runs counter to the values of San Francisco....We call on AT&T/TCI to respect the First Amendment and play fair," Roper added. The Coalition is calling on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to "demand that AT&T/TCI open its cable network to all legitimate points of view" related to the open access turf war. The Board recently mandated open cable access, and one wonders how far they're prepared to go in promoting it. Ordering a corporation to run ads critical of itself might be a bit over the top, even in San Francisco. Heavens, it might even be a bit "Orwellian". ®

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