It is troubling enough that hundreds of local cable-television providers apparently consider pornography channels just as normal as CNN. Now the telecommunications giant AT&T, known for so many years as Ma Bell, has decided to become Madam Bell by offering the Hot Network—which prides itself on being more explicit than the Playboy Channel—as a pay-per-view option on its cable operations (AT&T Broadband).
A significant coalition of religious investors has decided to hold AT&T accountable for its programming choices. The coalition, led by Mennonite Mutual Aid, includes representatives of the United Methodist Church, Christian Brothers Investment Services, Church of the Brethren, the Reformed Church in America, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph. This coalition controls 1.6 million shares of AT&T stock.
In December the coalition filed a proxy resolution that would require AT&T to report to all its shareholders by May on its rationale and justification for peddling porn to its cable customers. We are grateful for this initiative. We hope AT&T will be more responsive to this effort than it was in July 2000, when 30 religious investing groups asked AT&T to reconsider its decision to carry the Hot Network.
Rob Stoddard, AT&T Broadband's senior vice president for public relations, responded with a letter that began courteously but soon devolved into a pedantic lecture on the differences between "basic," "premium," and "pay-per-view" packages, as if less-than-full access transforms pornography into something worthwhile. "From our point of view at AT&T Broadband, issues regarding programming content boil down to two key elements: choice and control," Stoddard wrote. "Our customers tell us consistently that they strongly value a wide choice in the programming options that are available to them."
Nobody questions that AT&T can hit paydirt by offering pornography to its customers. But AT&T's critics ask what such crass pandering to people's worst instincts does to the corporation's soul. "Recent studies by respected medical organizations (the AMA, the American Psychological Association and others) cite causal connections between graphic (sexual and violent) media content and aggressive behavior," the coalition writes in its resolution. "Manufacturers and distributors of products with perceived harmful impact on society (such as tobacco companies, handgun manufacturers, and alcohol advertisers and retailers) are increasingly being held liable by local communities and individuals, producing costly litigation and troublesome public relations."
"Socially responsive investing" is most often the turf of liberal church bodies that bring their understanding of social justice to such questions as discrimination in hiring or gay rights. We are thankful that socially responsive investing, at least for the organizations confronting AT&T, now also includes a concern about the corrosive effects of hardcore pornography. We hope that conservative opponents of the pornography industry will also support this initiative.
Too many Americans know the pain of dabbling in pornography or becoming addicted to it. AT&T built its empire by providing an essential utility to a rapidly developing nation. Surely it can now do better than becoming just another smut-peddler.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
A related 1996 Christianity Today news article, "Holding Corporate America Accountable | Christians press for greater responsibility from businesses," noted earlier concerns Christians had with AT&T.
Christianity Today's Weblog earlier noted corporate America's increasing involvement in pornography (exposed in a New York Times article) and the coalition of religious investors who are fighting AT&T.
Crosswalk.com's Money channel offers many resources for values-based investing.
Don't miss other articles and resources about battling lust and pornography from CT and our sister publications:
News and reports from Christianity Today:
Tangled in the Worst of the Web | What Internet porn did to one pastor, his wife, his ministry, their life. (Feb. 23, 2001)
Resources for the Ensnared | Christ-centered help for those struggling with Internet pornography and sexual addiction. (Feb. 23, 2001)
We've Got Porn | Online smut is taking its toll on Christians. What is the church doing about it?(July 5, 2000)
Internet Pornography Use Common in many Libraries, Report Says | Librarian-researcher claims American Library Association thwarted study. (March 20 , 2000)
Christian Singer Shares Struggles with Pornography | Secret sin of Clay Crosse's youth reappears in midst of ministry (Feb. 7, 2000)
Amazon.com Pulls Book Targeted as 'Kiddie Porn' | But critics say other pedophilia books are still offered. (Jan. 24 , 2000)
Smut Magazine Publishers Convert | (April 26, 1999)
Curbing Smut Legally | Tough ordinances shut down porn outlets. (Feb. 8, 1999)
Christian Leaders Target Cyberporn | (Jan. 6, 1997)
Advice and experience from Leadership magazine:
Hooked | First he turned on the computer, then the computer turned on him. (Winter 2001)
Alone with my lust | Until my pastor held me accountable. (Summer 1996)
The War Within Continues | An update on a Christian leader's struggle with lust.(Fall 1988)
Battle Strategy: Some Practical Advice | An update on a Christian leader's struggle with lust.(Fall 1982)
Help with temptation and sex from Marriage Partnership:
Cybersex Temptation | Porn is as close as your home computer—and it's hooking Christians. (Fall 2000)
Real Sex | By Louis and Melissa McBurney (Fall 1996)
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