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AT&T’s tie to hard-core pornography ignites protest by 27-group coalition

WASHINGTON (BP)–Shame on AT&T, investors say. Ma Bell is getting into the hard-core pornography business, embarrassing and angering some of its investors.

A 27-group coalition, including mutual fund groups, pension funds and Protestant and Catholic groups, say they want to stop the telecommunications giant AT&T from distributing sexually explicit programming to its cable customers through the Hot Network, a pay-per-view cable station AT&T has added to its cable empire.

How much can be done to stop AT&T is an open question. The coalition, which says it controls 2.8 million shares of AT&T stock, has protested through a letter to the company. They also say they will try to enlist enough shareholders to draft an anti-Hot Network shareholder resolution that could be voted on at AT&T’s next shareholders’ meeting. The resolution would not be enforceable, but it should get the company’s attention, organizers say.

“We’re surprised, actually,” said Mark Regier of Mennonite Mutual Aid, one of the protesting investors, according to PRNewswire. “AT&T has established itself as a front-runner among socially responsible companies. Why they’d choose to embarrass their employees, shareholders and the company in such a way is unfathomable to us.

“Ma Bell just does not belong in the hard-core pornography business,” Regier said.

The Hot Network features erotic films with titles such as “Wages of Sin” and “Cheerleader Strippers,” according to a report by Crosswalk.com, an Internet news and information site. Tracy Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for AT&T Broadband, said, “It will be more explicit than you see on the Playboy channel, but not like the [X-rated] stuff you see in the video store.” Other competing cable operators like Comcast and Time Warner have refused to sell the services of the Hot Network.

Jerome Dodson, president of The Parnassus Fund, a socially responsible fund group that holds 35,000 shares of AT&T, said, “As shareholders, this is not the kind of economic activity we want to profit from,” according to an Associated Press report.

AT&T responded by saying it provides its customers with choices as well as the technology for customers to block programming they don’t like. A company spokesman said AT&T would try harder to inform parents and other customers about the blocking technology.

That doesn’t satisfy some coalition members. “We want AT&T management to understand [that] we don’t have any confidence in them,” said Frank Rauscher, president of the Aquinas Funds, which applies Catholic values to its investment screening process, according to AP. He said his company will draw attention to the controversy.

Rauscher accused AT&T of selling sex to boost its stock price, which has dropped nearly 50 percent since April; the company announced its decision to offer the Hot Network in May. “This has to be some form of desperation measure,” he said.

The shareholders coalition might take AT&T to court, said Vidette Bulock Mixon of the General Board of Pensions of the United Methodist Church. The shareholders may try to prompt state and municipal officials to invite the company to a court hearing claiming the Hot Network violates local community obscenity standards.

AT&T’s entry into the pornography business “will escalate the trend toward making hard-core pornography more accessible,” said Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, a minister who deals with investments for the Presbyterian Church (USA). Corporations “should serve the public interest,” he said, but AT&T’s action “undermines morality and violates the trust we place in companies to serve the common good.”

The 27 investors in the coalition are: Mennonite Mutual Aid Praxis Mutual Funds; United Methodist General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits; Presbyterian Church (USA); American Friends Service Committee; Women’s Division of Global Ministries General Board, United Methodist Church; Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers; Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment; Catholic Healthcare West; The Parnassus Fund; The Aquinas Funds; Pax World Funds; and Reformed Church in America.

Also, the Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits); Adrian Dominican Sisters; Springfield Dominican Sisters; Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother; Sisters of Saint Joseph; Sisters of Charity of New York; Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful; Sinsinawa Dominicans; Society of Mary; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Catholic Health East; Christian Brothers Investment Services; Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth; Catholic Health Initiatives; and United Church of Christ, Pension Boards.
Pierce is editor of ReligionToday, at ReligionToday.com on the Internet, a channel on the Crosswalk.com news and information website. Reprinted by permission.

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  • Larry Pierce