Echoes of the Minister of Newspeak

Jun 16, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Remember Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraq Minister of Information, who said Americans were nowhere near Baghdad even as coalition forces secured the airport and rolled into the city? For a moment last week, we wondered if he had found his way to the headquarters of EchoStar Communications. Of course, in reality, Saeed al-Sahhaf has nothing whatever to do with EchoStar and never will. The reason for the allusion is EchoStar’s reaction to a tough ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Dimitrouleas in Miami in an ongoing dispute with the Big 4 networks. The Judge said EchoStar violated copyright law by supplying the signals of distant affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. He said it appeared that EchoStar executives, including CEO Charlie Ergen, had tried to pull a fast one by waiting to see if new legislation would grandfather customers getting illegal signals instead of making good on a promise to weed out such subscribers. The judge also put the kibosh on some methodology EchoStar used in qualifying distant-signal customers. But the judge could have been tougher. He ordered the company to requalify those subscribers with a single database (not the dual databases used). However, the judge did not order EchoStar to turn off all its distant-signal transmissions, a punishment that some had referred to as “the death penalty.” And the judge said EchoStar’s current qualification policies are legal. So while headline writers took a darker view, EchoStar issued a cheery press release headlined: “Court Finds EchoStar’s Current Distant Network Procedures to Be in Compliance With Copyright Laws,” with the subhead: “No Impact on Local Network Channel Broadcasts for EchoStar Customers.” Blink asked EchoStar’s Marc Lumpkin how the company arrived at that headline. Replied Mr. Lumpkin: “It is accurate.” As far as it goes.