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Astonishing row as CBS blocks ad-skipping feature from winning CNET best of show in Las Vegas

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

January 15, 2013 | 5 min read

In a furious row over the TV network CBS blocking Dish Network's ad-skipping Hopper feature from the "Best of CES" awards at last week's show in Las Vegas, senior CNET writer Greg Sandoval has quit.

Uproar at CNET as CBS muscles in

And CNET Review editor-in-chief Lindsey Turrentine has revealed the astonishing battle that went on behind the scenes, saying she too thought of quitting.

CNET, a major tech media website bought by CBS in 2008, covers the Consumer Electronics Show extensively. One of the products it examined most closely last week was Dish's Hopper. It enables Dish Network subscribers to skip video ads on their iPads and smartphones, as well as on TV .

CBS, among others, is unhappy about the degree to which allowing consumers to skip ads will devalue their commercials, said Adweek.

Thus, CNET were ordered to take the product off their list of "best of show" finalists.

The decision was justified with a terse note at the bottom of the page: "The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product."

Dish responded with an angry statement lambasting CBS for interfering with CNET's editorial integrity. And it seems CNET staff agree.

This morning, Sandoval tweeted:

Greg Sandoval

@sandoCNET

Hello all. Sad to report that I've resigned from CNET. I no longer have confidence that CBS is committed to editorial independence."

But it was Lindsey Turrentine Editor-in-Chief of CNET Reviews who really spilled the beans, in this jaw-dropping note on the CNET website:

"Last week, about 40 members of the CNET editorial staff met in the CNET trailer in the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center to vote on the official Best of CES winner.

"We gathered on Wednesday evening and heard from each editor covering the show what he or she liked best.""she said.

"Ultimately, we chose the Dish Hopper for our Best of CES award because of innovative features that push shows recorded on DVR to iPads."

Turrentine said that evening they were alerted to the legal conflict for CBS.

"All night and through to morning, my managers up and down CNET and I fought for two things: To honor the original vote and -- when it became clear that CBS Corporate did not accept that answer -- to issue a transparent statement regarding the original vote.

"Ultimately, we were told that we must use the official statement and that we must follow corporate policy to defer all press requests to corporate communications"

Here is that official statement:"
The Dish Hopper with Sling was removed from consideration due to active litigation involving our parent company CBS Corp. We will no longer be reviewing products manufactured by companies with which we are in litigation with respect to such product."

Turrentine said, "We were in an impossible situation as journalists. The conflict of interest was real -- a legal case can impact the bottom line of our company and introduce the possibility of bias -- but the circumstances demanded more transparency and not hurried policy.

"I could have quit right then. Maybe I should have. I decided that the best thing for my team was to get through the day as best we could and to fight the fight from the other side.

"Every single member of the CNET Reviews team is a dedicated, ethical, passionate technology critic. If I abandoned them now, I would be abandoning the ship.

"CNET Senior Vice President and General Manager Mark Larkin and I reacted by gathering our team and telling them the only thing we were allowed to say, which was and is the truth as far as I know: That because of active litigation between CBS and Dish, we had to disqualify Dish and that the only fair thing to do in this new reality was to revote and inform Dish about what had happened. That is what we did.

"If I had to face this dilemma again, I would not quit. I stand by my team and the years of work they have put into making CNET what it is. But I wish I could have overridden the decision not to reveal that Dish had won the vote in the trailer. For that I apologize to my staff and to CNET readers'

"The one thing I want to clearly communicate to my team and to everyone at CNET and beyond is this: CNET does excellent work. Its family of writers is unbiased, focused, bright, and true. CNET will continue to do excellent good work.

"Of that I am certain. Going forward, I will do everything within my power to prevent this situation from happening again."

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