Minority Astroturf Group Gets Comcast-Affiliated News Site To Remove Article About Minority Astroturfing On Net Neutrality

from the no-open-internet-and-no-open-discussion dept

Last month, we wrote about the vastly different views on net neutrality from a variety of minority and latino organizations. The key to the story, not surprisingly, was that the minority groups that are heavily funded by the giant broadband troika of Verizon, AT&T and Comcast apparently think that true net neutrality would be a disaster for the minority community -- while the groups not funded by those corporate giants believe that more open and free internet devoid of fast and slow lanes is a good thing for the minority community.

Reporter Lee Fang had written a similar article for Republic Report, touching on some of the same points about the disagreements between these groups. That story got syndicated to a bunch of other sites, including Salon, and some others wrote about it. One site was NewsOne, which describes itself as being a news site "for black America." They had a blog post that discussed the Salon story and quoted heavily from it. That story no longer exists, taken down thanks to complaints from the same group it criticized. Here's a screenshot of what it looked like (you can click for a larger version):
So, where did the article go? Well, it just so happens that NewsOne is owned by Radio One, a company that is closely tied to Comcast. So, there's a bit of a conflict there already. Fang called up NewsOne and was told that the order to take it down "came from corporate headquarters."
NewsOne editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher told Republic Report, “the company didn’t feel it was appropriate to have up and we were suppose to take it down.”
For the life of me, I can't see anything in the original article that was "inappropriate," other than that corporate bosses might not have liked pissing off corporate partners by exposing some of their astroturfing. But that's not all. Fang also reached out to the lobbying group the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC). MMTC is the organization that featured prominently in both my story and Fang's original story as being the central player in pushing the big broadband players agenda in DC and dragging along these other minority groups. Just last year, the Center for Public Integrity had called out MMTC as a big broadband astroturfing front group, noting that it had taken a strong stand against telco consolidation... until it was suddenly flooded with money from the telcos, and totally flipped its position:
From 2009 through 2011 MMTC received at least $725,000 in contributions and sponsorships from network neutrality foes including Verizon, Time Warner, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, according to MMTC tax filings and sponsorship lists.

MMTC’s relationship with Verizon demonstrates the group’s various methods of obtaining industry revenue. In 2009, at the height of the net neutrality debate, Verizon made a direct $40,000 contribution to MMTC. From 2010 to 2013, MMTC documents list Verizon as funding at least $160,000 in MMTC conference sponsorships.
It's also worth noting that one of Comcast's main political operatives, Joe Waz, happens to be on MMTC's board of advisors. We're sure that's just a coincidence though.

Either way, it appears that MMTC hasn't been particularly happy with people highlighting its curious change of position so closely tied to all that money from the telcos. As Fang reports:
On Monday, according to an attendee at an MMTC conference, MMTC vice president Nicol Turner-Lee referred to my reporting as a “digital lynch mob.” Turner-Lee... reportedly claimed that minority organizations that support Title II reclassification — the only path for effective Net Neutrality after a court ruling in January — are not “true civil rights leaders.”
So, Fang called up MMTC, and the group flat out admitted to contacting NewsOne to get them to pull the article. Because throwing around your weight to stifle criticism is cool:
Contacted by Republic Report, MMTC president David Honig confirmed that he reached out to NewsOne, and also stood by Turner-Lee’s comments from earlier this week. Asked about the digital lynch mob comment, Honig e-mailed us to say, “I stand with Dr. Turner Lee’s assessment of the various hit pieces written by you and others. She spoke in the vernacular of the movement to which she has devoted her life, and is referencing the divide and conquer tactics used for decades to undermine the civil rights movement.” Regarding the claim that no “true civil rights leaders” support reclassification, Honig replied, “she was correct. Not one of the leaders of the major national civil rights membership organizations has endorsed Title II reclassification.”
Honig is lying. Tons of major national civil rights organizations have, in fact, endorsed Title II reclassification. But, I guess when you can use totally arbitrary standards like "true" civil rights leaders and "major" civil rights organizations, you can make any claim you want and pretend you're on solid ground.

Either way, this incident not only highlights MMTC's willingness to not just bully the press and attack it with lies, but to go so far as to push media companies to remove content that criticizes them. The fact that NewsOne complied says nothing good about NewsOne as well. It also highlights why having truly independent media reporting on these issues is so important.
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Filed Under: astroturfing, broadband, lee fang, lobbying, minority groups, net neutrality
Companies: comcast, mmtc, newsone

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