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One America News sends legal threat to Media Matters

A cease-and-desist letter focused on a Media Matters post about Roku's streaming TV service.

A cease-and-desist letter focused on a Media Matters post about Roku's streaming TV service.

(Still frame via One America News Network broadcast, Graphic by The Desk)
(Still frame via One America News Network broadcast, Graphic by The Desk)

A progressive media watchdog website has been hit with a legal demand from the owner of One America News (OAN) over a blog post that focused on the channel’s distribution through Roku’s free, ad-supported television service.

The letter, sent by OAN’s parent company Herring Networks, charged Media Matters with attempting to convince Roku to stop distributing the channel on its platform, where OAN is freely accessible through the Roku Channel.

On January 13, Media Matters writers Emma Mae Weber and Beatrice Mount published a column that said Roku’s carriage of OAN on the Roku Chanel was “keeping a far-right channel unsuitable for cable news on life support.” It made the case that Roku’s carriage of OAN put it in front of 63 million active users of the streaming platform, and was a major part in the channel’s overall business plan, which relies on carriage to justify rates charged to advertisers.

The Media Matters piece used comments attributed to Robert Herring, the owner of Herring Networks and the operator of OAN, who said two years ago that non-traditional forms of carriage — like distribution of its networks on streaming platforms — “would be a big part of our revenue stream moving forward.” The writers cited a press release issued by Herring last year that made the claim that OAN reached over “250 million monthly active users” across various traditional and non-traditional media distribution products.

The writers affirmed the Roku Channel is not alone in carrying OAN — the channel is also available on at least a half-dozen streaming apps that users can download from the platform’s app store, most of which are available for free. That carriage helped “subsidize” OAN’s business model, which relies on distribution and reach, the authors contend.

On Thursday, Herring Networks fired off a cease and desist letter to Media matters and its chief executive, Angelo Carusone, accusing the publication of attempting to influence Roku to pull OAN and the apps that support it from the platform.

The letter cited no specific legal issues with the column itself, but did accuse Media Matters of committing copyright infringement by repurposing lengthy clips from OAN programs that were embedded in that column and others.

News organizations are typically allowed under the U.S. Copyright code and other laws to include a certain amount of copyright-protected material without first getting permission. The doctrine, known as “fair use,” applies to works that have a nexus to journalism, commentary, criticism or education.

Herring said the use of the clips — some of which exceeded 16 minutes in length — weren’t covered under the fair use provision of the Copyright Act because Media Matters purportedly used them as part of its “naked political activism, advocacy and interference in OAN’s business relations.”

“Media Matters does not engage in the type of thoughtful ‘fair use’ criticism envisioned by the Copyright Act, but rather outright misrepresents the content of OAN’s programming,” the letter said.

It wasn’t clear if Media Matters or Carusone had received the letter or had an opportunity to review its contents. A message sent to Carusone by way of his Twitter account wasn’t returned as of Thursday afternoon.

The Media Matters column in question was amended about four days after it was published to include “additional information,” though the publication didn’t say which information was included or whether anything was amended or deleted.

Launched in 2013, OAN has found favor with far-right viewers who feel disenfranchised by conservative-oriented media options on television and the Internet. It was launched in 2013, and partially bankrolled by AT&T, in part to offer an alternative to the Fox News Channel, which also airs conservative opinion programming.

But OAN has faced intense criticism over the last few years for running interviews and segments that are perceived as favorable to former President Donald Trump, including baseless allegations of election fraud. The channel settled a case last April brought by two election workers from Georgia who sued after OAN aired a report that connected them to a purported and unfounded plot to rig the presidential election there.

Last year, both Verizon and DirecTV — the latter of which is still majority-owned by AT&T — dropped OAN from their pay TV lineups. The move meant its reach was reduced by around 20 million customers who still pay for cable and satellite, though fans of OAN still had free streaming options to watch the channel.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).