Al Jazeera, AT&T Wrongly Kept Terms Secret, Judge Rules

Al Jazeera and AT&T Inc. improperly kept secret the terms of their dispute that led the cable operator to drop the Qatar-based broadcaster’s new U.S. channel and the news service to file a lawsuit, a judge ruled.

Judge Sam Glasscock III of Delaware Chancery Court told the network today to release most of the contract data within five business days.

“I find that, with minor exceptions, neither party has shown ‘good cause’ to maintain confidential treatment of the redacted complaint,” Glasscock wrote. “Those who decide to litigate in a public forum (rather than pursue a private dispute-resolution procedure) must do so in a manner consistent with the right of the public to follow and monitor the proceedings.”

AT&T Inc., the largest U.S. phone company, was sued by Al Jazeera over its refusal to carry the broadcaster’s new U.S. cable-news channel as part of its pay-television service. Several media outlets including Bloomberg News challenged the secrecy in court filings.

At a September hearing, lawyers argued that terms of agreements are proprietary and shouldn’t be made public for competitors to see.

“Al Jazeera is evaluating its options and declines to comment at this time,” said lawyer John Reed, who represents the company in the case.

Mark A. Siegel, a spokesman for Dallas-based AT&T, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed message seeking comment on the ruling.

U-Verse Decision

AT&T’s U-verse pay-TV service said Aug. 19 it wouldn’t carry Al Jazeera America because of disputes over the agreement between the two broadcasters. U-verse began in 2006 and has 5 million video customers in states such as Texas and California.

The network, controlled by the Qatari royal family, paid $500 million for Al Gore’s money-losing Current TV in January and rebranded it.

Buying Current TV gave Al Jazeera America access to about 43 million U.S. homes, less than half of the nation’s pay-TV homes. The Qatari company also has deals with Comcast Corp., DirecTV and Dish Network Corp. for BeIN Sport, a group of channels it owns in France, the U.S. and Canada that have rights to European soccer leagues.

The case is Al Jazeera LLC v. AT&T Services Inc., CA 8823, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

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