In the bizarre story of GLAAD’s forced support of AT&T’s takeover of Tmobile, GLAAD failed the queer community. There are three big reasons this makes me hopping mad.
As a black lesbian director of a national media strategy and organizing center, I consider it my fight to ensure that the civil rights groups of the DC beltway represent the needs and dreams of local under-represented communities when it comes to telecom issues. When the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) took it upon themselves to advocate for the AT&T takeover of tmobile, they advocated for the company, not the people they are sworn to represent. I had to ask myself why.
Big Media = Big Money. According to an article published in Politico last week, AT&T gave money to all the civil rights groups that currently back the merger. While AT&T claims their donations and grants to be the result of socially responsible partnership with non-profits, it seems pretty obvious that the ONLY groups that support the merger are ones that have received money from AT&T.
GLAAD isn’t the only group to suffer under the thumb of the expectations that come with receiving corporate money. Just last month, Comcast pulled a grant from Reel Grrls -a small video production organization serving young women- after they tweeted a critique of Comcast’s hire of FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker. These young women raised concerns about reports that FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker had gone from overseeing the approved merger of Comcast and NBC to working as a top official at Comcast. Instead of begging for their grant back, Reel Grrls raised a ruckus and alerted both their allies and the media. Under national scrutiny, Comcast apologized and offered to restore the grant, but Reel Grrls had raised enough money through donations. They set a precedent by saying no to the corporate money and the strings that come with it.
Accepting significant financial contributions from big industry links the fate and survival of these non-profit organizations with the profit-bearing motives of corporate donors and the deregulation of corporate America.
GLAAD only received $50,000 from AT&T, which is a drop in the bucket compared to what has been given to some larger groups. Even this small amount was enough to coerce GLAAD into taking a bizarre position on a merger that will have clear negative impacts on the communities they serve. But it’s not good enough for public interest media reform groups to tell non-profits like GLAAD or Reel Grrls not to accept corporate money, regardless of the clear and compelling evidence that political coercion is imminent. Together, civic organizations must fight to ensure there are alternate sources of funding that support –not distort- the mission of these groups.
Lack of Appropriate Information and Representation. Beyond the money, there is a serious lack of good research and policy information available to these groups. Like GLAAD, most beltway civil rights groups do not have in- house telecom counsel or staff. So where do they get their information?
From the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC)– a group run by David Honig which has repeatedly advocated for mergers and the deregulation of the telecom industry. David, who is white, has taken a few progressive positions on telecommunications issues, but his analysis of what it takes to close the digital divide and advance democratic participation is more corporate investment. He suggests that making big business follow the same rules the rest of us do would decrease investment and harm people of color. He insists that if left alone to make their money, companies like AT&T and Comcast would “do the right thing”. Have you ever heard of a big company doing the right thing without incentive- particularly when potential profits are at stake? This is the misinformation flooding local, state, and national civil rights organizations. Without the legal or technical in-house expertise to interrogate these assertions, they rely on MMTC.
But MMTC isn’t the biggest culprit here- in my opinion they’re just trying to make it within a culture of backroom corporate deals. Despite great labor practices and a socially responsible face, AT&T is the real bad guy. Like other big media companies, they often write letters to the FCC, and civil rights organizations like GLAAD just sign them. This practice is largely denied, and GLAAD was first in line to claim their pro-corporate policy position as authentic- but in a recent admission by GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios acknowledged that at least once, AT&T officials had written a letter for GLAAD. If AT&T is doing the advocacy, and MMTC is providing the information- who is speaking for the gay/lesbian/bi/and transgendered community? It sure isn’t GLAAD.
Worldview. Why does AT&T have such power in civic organizations from the DC beltway to your hometown? Well it isn’t because these organizations are dumb, or simply because they are struggling for resources or ill-informed. No. These organizations are often run by brilliant leaders of integrity. Instead, I think it’s because many groups have internalized a worldview that prioritizes getting our piece of the American pie, rather than one that seeks to remake the pie into something we can not only eat, but create and control. In the context of decimated public and municipal infrastructure, and an economic environment where jobs are scarce- the promise of contracts, work, and money, coupled with the belief that wealth equals freedom, promises mean a lot. Even if history proves that when it comes to big industry, promises not guaranteed by regulation are made to be broken. As a movement for justice, part of our mandate is to shift beliefs and values about the role of corporations in our lives.
Not only did GLAAD lie about their relationship with AT&T, but they failed to protect their members from the price gouging and content blocking this merger would legalize. This is why GLAAD may represent AT&T, but they don’t represent me. Sign the petition to stop the merger now.