DirecTV told Senate Republicans on Thursday that Newsmax continues to lie about the network’s ratings as part of its political pressure campaign to force the pay-TV provider to dish out millions of dollars to the pro-Trump channel.
Besides peddling “misleading” claims about its viewership, the satellite carrier also said that Newsmax is pushing false information about the license fees DirecTV pays to other channels, noting that many networks Newsmax claims are getting paid by the company receive no carriage fees.
DirecTV also revealed that once upon a time, Newsmax actually paid the cable provider fees to carry its channel and was dropped from the service in 2016 for eight months when it tried to negotiate a new deal. However, as DirecTV noted, they are “not aware of any Member of Congress or conservative activist at that time accusing DIRECTV of censoring or de-platforming Newsmax” during that specific contract dispute.
DirecTV, which is owned primarily by telecommunications giant AT&T, pulled Newsmax from its service in late January over what it has described as a standard business dispute over increased rates. Newsmax, meanwhile, has accused the satellite carrier of “political discrimination” and “silencing” conservative voices by “de-platforming” the network. The channel also claims that DirecTV is paying “22 liberal news channels,” many of whom draw lower ratings than Newsmax, while refusing to agree to the right-wing network’s modest fee request.
Even before Newsmax was officially pulled, the channel and its CEO Chris Ruddy had enlisted dozens of Republicans to exert political pressure on the provider and its corporate parents to agree to Newsmax’s demands. Citing a February 2021 letter sent by some House Democrats that asked cable carriers if they planned to “continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax, and OANN” in the wake of 2020 election conspiracies, Republicans and Newsmax have suggested that DirecTV is colluding with Democrats and government officials to “censor” right-wing content. (DirecTV dropped far-right channel OAN last year, furthering conservatives’ allegations of censorship.)
Amid Newsmax’s countless on-air segments and online posts pushing viewers to cancel DirecTV and AT&T products, many of which feature GOP lawmakers, a group of four Republican senators—including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—sent DirecTV a letter last month demanding “detailed and specific information” about the company’s actions. For the most part, the senators’ demand largely parroted many of the allegations and complaints made by Newsmax, claiming “it appears that this decision may be the latest example of big business suppressing politically disfavored speech at the behest of liberal Democrats.”
While DirecTV’s general counsel Michael Hartman previously replied to the letter last month, telling the senators that Newsmax was peddling “false claims” about other networks’ carriage fees and ratings, he also promised to follow up with a more detailed response to the lawmakers’ questions. (Cruz, for his part, told Newsmax this week that DirecTV’s answers to his committee were “insufficient.”)
In a message sent on Thursday, Hartman wrote that DirecTV currently operates in “a very difficult business environment” that has seen subscribers ditch pay TV services at an increasingly high rate. Adding that DirecTV “must be exceedingly careful about increasing the cost of its service,” Hartman said that Newsmax is attempting to “leverage” this negotiation to “bootstrap its efforts to become an exclusively subscription” based channel.
Noting that “not a single major pay tv provider pays Newsmax,” Hartman stated that DirecTV understands that the channel does have commitments from other providers to receive license fees “if and when” Newsmax stops allowing its channel to be accessed for free on other streaming platforms. (DirecTV has maintained that the crux of its dispute is that Newsmax wants to be paid for content that it provides for free elsewhere, while Newsmax insists it is soon getting rid of that option.)
“We also understand that those commitments are subject to ‘most favored nations’ clauses which ensure that these operators will not pay unless and until DIRECTV starts to pay, and at a rate no higher than that of DIRECTV,” Hartman added. “Thus, the ‘commitments’ Newsmax claims to have seem to be subject to significant conditions.”
While calling Newsmax “disingenuous” for claiming it’s being “deplatformed” by DirecTV, Hartman also asserted that there was never any conservative outrage when Newsmax was previously pulled from the service back in 2016. And he also revealed that Newsmax used to pay DirecTV to air its channel.
“Beginning in 2014, Newsmax actually paid DIRECTV a fee to carry its channel,” he said. “When that agreement was nearing an end in August 2016, Newsmax demanded to change the contractual terms and pay no fee. The parties were unable to reach agreement and DIRECTV was then prohibited from carrying Newsmax on its platform. Newsmax remained off of DIRECTV for approximately eight months—until June 2017—after which time Newsmax and DIRECTV finally reached the agreement that recently expired.”
Hartman continued: “Notably, we are not aware of any Member of Congress or conservative activist at that time accusing DIRECTV of censoring or deplatforming Newsmax. It was clearly understood then for what it is now: a business negotiation. Except now, Newsmax is trying to inject an unfounded political argument into a business dispute.”
Hartman also disputed Newsmax’s claims that it outperforms the ratings of most of the other channels that DirecTV airs and pays, noting that the network is chopping around charts “that are filled with inaccuracies” and the “comparisons are misleading.” (DirecTV provided its own charts that apparently refute Newsmax’s claims.)
“The industry norm is to use either Nielsen’s all day 24-hour ratings or Nielsen’s prime time (8pm-11pm) ratings,” Hartman wrote. “Newsmax is ranked fourth from the bottom in the 24-hour ratings (excluding 6 for which there are no ratings), and Newsmax is ranked 22nd out of 24 on the ‘Major Networks’ to which it compares itself.”
Hartman also said that despite Newsmax’s claims about the rates DirecTV pays to other channels, which is drawn from a market research firm that doesn’t have direct access to DirecTV’s data, roughly one-third of the channels aired on the service receive no license fees.
“In some cases, they are significantly inaccurate,” the general counsel said. “For example, Newsmax’s chart list fees for one channel that is ten times higher than the fee paid by DIRECTV. It is worth noting that we provide zero carriage fees to four channels that outperform Newsmax on average audience and rankings on the Nielsen all day average audience metrics, and less carriage fees than the fee proposed by Newsmax to two other stations that have higher rankings than Newsmax. In fact, we do not pay carriage fees for 85 of the 251 national cable channels we carry.”
After reiterating that no Democrat has made “any threats” to DirecTV amid the negotiations, and no shareholder has “expressed to DIRECTV any animus regarding Newsmax’s political leanings,” Hartman noted that it is actually Newsmax that is engaging in political interference.
“We are very troubled that Newsmax has engaged in this campaign to make an economic dispute into a false censoring and political deplatforming issue,” he said. “It degrades both our politics and our markets.”
Noting that DirecTV’s recent agreement to air right-wing channel The First “flies in the face” of the accusation that the company is discriminating against conservative speech, Hartman lamented “Newsmax’s campaign of misinformation” that’s targeted members of Congress and DirecTV customers.
“If Newsmax wants to know who is improperly injecting political considerations into commercial decisions, it should look in the mirror,” Hartman concluded. “We want to assure you that DIRECTV wants to carry Newsmax as part of our service, and we hope that we are able to reach an agreement soon to do so.”
A representative for Newsmax did not immediately respond to a request for comment.