DirecTV Tells GOP That Newsmax Is Peddling ‘False Claims’

DirecTV continues to push back against claims from conservatives that it is actively “censoring” right-wing content by “de-platforming” Newsmax, this time telling a group of Republican senators that it’s actually the pro-Trump channel that “dropped” the pay-TV provider.

Over the past few weeks, Newsmax has accused DirecTV, and its corporate parents AT&T and TPG Capital, of engaging in “political discrimination and censorship” by dropping the channel after negotiations over a new deal fell apart last month. DirecTV, on the other hand, has insisted that this is merely a standard business dispute, noting that it balked at Newsmax’s demands for increased license fees to remain on its channel lineup.

Earlier this month, a group of four GOP senators—including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—sent the CEOs of DirecTV and its corporate partners a letter expressing how they were “deeply disturbed” over the cable carrier’s decision to remove Newsmax, claiming it “harms” millions of their constituents.

Asserting that “it appears that this decision may be the latest example of big business suppressing politically disfavored speech at the behest of liberal Democrats,” the lawmakers demanded “detailed and specific information” about the company’s actions. Echoing a similar letter sent by House Republicans days ahead of the expiration of Newsmax’s deal, the senators alleged DirecTV had previously colluded with Democrats to “censor” conservative speech, pointing to the carrier deciding last year to stop carrying far-right channel One America News.

“It has been alleged that DirecTV pays substantial sums to numerous channels that are politically left-of-center, even when those channels have substantially lower ratings than Newsmax,” the letter continued. “And, it has been alleged that DirecTV refused to pay any net sums whatsoever to Newsmax—and expressly stated that it never would pay any net sums to Newsmax—even though explicitly liberal stations with substantially fewer viewers were receiving millions of dollars from DirecTV. One of those stations allegedly paid by DirecTV, the unabashedly left-wing channel Vice, is partially owned by TPG, and two TPG partners serve on Vice’s board.”

The GOP letter went on to list off a series of questions and requests for information from DirecTV regarding its contracts with Newsmax and OAN, as well as any communications the company or its corporate parents have had with Democratic officials and lawmakers. Additionally, they wanted to know what carriage fees the company paid other channels with ratings lower than Newsmax and OAN, demanding a response by February 15.

DirecTV general counsel Michael Hartman replied on Wednesday night with a letter pushing back on many of the senators’ allegations, which appeared to come directly from Newsmax. (The letter is similar to one DirecTV sent earlier this week to a group of “Jewish community leaders,” organized by a self-described “Newsmax insider,” that urged the carrier to reinstate Newsmax.)

According to Hartman, it is actually Newsmax that created this impasse in the first place.

“With respect to the Newsmax situation, put simply, this is a typical business dispute that has nothing to do with ideology, politics or censorship – despite unfounded accusations to the contrary by Newsmax, its CEO, its commentators and others,” Hartman wrote. “The bottom line is that DIRECTV wanted to continue carrying Newsmax on its platform under the exact same terms that have been in place for years, but Newsmax refused to continue these terms and demanded millions of dollars in extra payments. It is in fact Newsmax that dropped DIRECTV.”

Newsmax has confirmed that it requested a carriage fee equal to roughly $1 per subscriber on an annual basis in its recent negotiation with the pay-TV company. While DirecTV’s subscriber base has shrunk considerably in recent years due to cord-cutting and increased streaming options, the provider still boasts 13 million customers, meaning Newsmax wanted at least $13 million a year.

Hartman also claimed that Newsmax is seeking to “change the model by which it commercializes its channel,” noting that it is currently distributed “free of charge” on both pay-TV services and free streaming devices.

“Newsmax plans to make its channel available exclusively in pay TV, to the detriment of the 55 million households that don’t have a pay TV service, and to start charging pay TV operators a per subscriber fee to distribute the channel,” Hartman added, disputing allegations that DirecTV is “de-platforming” the right-wing network.

Hartman further pointed out that DirecTV recently added fledgling right-wing channel The First to its lineup after negotiations fell apart with Newsmax, stating that this showed that Newsmax’s claims of DirecTV’s anti-conservative bias are “untrue.”

“The amounts DIRECTV pays for conservative channels, in the aggregate, is roughly similar to what we pay for liberal channels, in the aggregate,” Hartman added.

Stating that the “ongoing dispute comes down to economics,” Hartman bemoaned that the pro-Trump channel was “using its news/editorial platform to publish inaccurate and misleading information regarding” the contractual stalemate.

“Each day, the news outlet is publishing nearly two dozen blogs on its website and dozens of posts on its main social handle, creating targeted content for its commentators, leveraging its network of contributors and dedicating significant airtime each hour to our business dispute,” he wrote. “In our view these efforts are obscuring facts, not elucidating the news.”

In addition, Hartman took issue with the way Newsmax has portrayed its contracts with other channels, namely Vice.

“For example, as to Vice, Newsmax has made allegations of bias based on false claims about DIRECTV’s carriage,” he declared. “Contrary to Newsmax’s assertions, DIRECTV does not consider Vice a ‘news’ channel. DIRECTV only carries Vice as part of our agreement with A&E Network, under which we pay a lump sum for a suite of channels that happens to include Vice. Thus, whatever fees are paid to Vice are determined by A&E, and not DIRECTV.”

Hartman wrapped up his letter by telling the lawmakers that the company is not aware of any Democratic officials “making any threats or promise of inducements to pressure any DIRECTV employee regarding its negotiations with Newsmax.”

Newsmax did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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