Telecoms have long been accused of trying to distort policy, but a new report suggests AT&T could have gone further than most. According to The Verge,, Reuters reports that AT&T is a big supporter of the One America News Network (OAN), the right-wing media YouTube, was temporarily banned last November for spreading misinformation. Although several TV providers run the channel, one OAN accountant in 2020 testified that 90 percent of Hering Networks ’parent revenue, tens of millions of dollars, came through agreements with platforms owned by AT&T that include DirecTV.
OAN founder Robert Herring testified separately that AT&T executives inspired him to launch the network in 2013 after looking at the media space with relatively few conservative releases. Court documents also show that AT&T offered to buy a 5 percent stake in OAN and Herring’s lifestyle channel AWE, although the two eventually chose a different agreement.
The OAN even claimed that one AT&T CEO, Aaron Slator, offered to put the channel on DirecTV in exchange for lobbying assistance to connect satellite television in 2014. The Herring family also reportedly met with FCC officials to discuss the merger and speak well of AT&T in the news. AT&T denied that the offer was related to Slator, and a lawsuit by OAN that allegedly violated that agreement allegedly led AT&T to add OAN to DirecTV’s selection.
AT&T rejected allegations of undue influence in its responses to Reuters i The Verge. The carrier argued that DirecTV “does not dictate” channel programming, and that support for the merger of DirecTV “was never a condition or part” of any content transfer agreement. On Twitter statement, AT&T claimed that it “never had a financial interest” in the UN and that the decision to carry the network was now in the hands of DirecTV.
The concern, as you can imagine, is that AT&T may have contributed to the spread of misinformation without responding like ISPs and other companies. On top of YouTube suspending the OAN for violating COVID-19 misinformation rules, voting machine maker Dominion sued the network in August this year for unproven allegations of election fraud. If the report is accurate, there could easily be pressure on AT&T to distance itself from the OAN and focus more on its core services than on policy.
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