A coalition of prominent rights organizations demanded Monday that AT&T and DirecTV completely sever ties with the One America News Network, a rabidly pro-Trump media outlet that the groups slammed for "spreading anti-democratic disinformation, promoting Covid-19 conspiracy theories, and fueling racism."
In a letter to AT&T CEO John Stankey and DirecTV CEO Bill Morrow, the coalition points to a recent report that exposed the major role AT&T—the world's largest telecom company—played in creating and funding OANN, which the media-justice group Free Press described as a "propaganda channel."
AT&T owns a 70% stake in DirecTV, which the telecom behemoth spun off earlier this year.
"OANN has the right to air whatever content it chooses," reads the letter led by Free Press and signed by 16 other groups. "However, AT&T's support for OANN runs contrary to its public commitment to equality given OANN's role in funding and promoting anti-democratic policies as well as its track record of providing a platform for disinformation and calls for acts of violence that undermine trust in our institutions."
The coalition—which includes Color of Change, Greenpeace USA, Common Cause, and Global Project Against Hate and Extremism—argues that since its inception in 2013, OANN "has provided an open platform for purveyors of disinformation to spread dangerous and hateful messages that undermine our democracy."
"OANN is a major supporter of the Stop the Steal movement and is currently being sued by Dominion for spreading election fraud lies that claimed the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump," the letter states. "OANN has provided ongoing coverage of 'fraudulent' results and played a role in fomenting the Jan. 6 deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. OANN is continuing to run content that spreads election disinformation and seeks to cast doubt over the results of the 2020 presidential election."
The groups go on to note that OANN "has a history of featuring false information about the pandemic, which breeds distrust in public health officials and in the efficacy of the vaccine."
"In November 2020, the OANN YouTube channel featured information about a guaranteed 'cure' for Covid which YouTube flagged as violating its Covid-specific misinformation policies. YouTube suspended the OANN channel for the violation and remarked that the 'demonetization of all OANN content will be permanent, unless the network addresses its issues.'"
Yosef Getachew, director of the Media and Democracy Program at Common Cause, said in a statement Monday that "the harmful disinformation OANN spreads has had real-world impacts on democracy and public health, from the violent insurrection on our Capitol to the death and suffering of so many who were misinformed by the network's coverage of the pandemic."
"AT&T must be held accountable for its role in building and bankrolling OANN," Getachew added, "and DirecTV must no longer carry this dangerous disinformation network."
Citing court records, Reuters reported last month that AT&T "has been a crucial source of funds flowing into OAN, providing tens of millions of dollars in revenue."
"Ninety percent of OAN's revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms, including satellite broadcaster DirecTV, according to 2020 sworn testimony by an OAN accountant," the outlet noted. "Without the DirecTV deal, the accountant said under oath, the network's value 'would be zero.'"
Nora Benavidez, senior counsel and director of digital justice and civil rights at Free Press, said Monday that "AT&T helped conceive, finance, and provide a megaphone for Donald Trump's big lie."
"One America News would not exist without AT&T's money and DirecTV's national platform," said Benavidez. "It wouldn't have been able to mislead millions with dangerous, hateful, and dishonest messages that undermine our democracy and threaten our diverse communities."
"These two media giants continue to spout talking points about race equity while supporting a network that's given a national stage to white supremacists and promoted lies about public health," she added. "We're calling on AT&T CEO John Stankey and DirecTV CEO Bill Morrow to account for their hypocrisy and are urging both of their companies to cut all ties with One America News."