Court insists on transparency in Al Jazeera lawsuit against AT&T

Rebecca Hawkes | 16-10-2013

Full details of Al Jazeera's lawsuit against AT&T must be made public within four business days, following a decision by a Delaware court that contractual secrecy is not consistent with public litigation proceedings.

The dispute between the Qatar-based television broadcaster and the US telecommunications giant stems from Al Jazeera America's launch on 20 August 2013, when AT&T abruptly dropped the new channel from its cable network U-Verse. Al Jazeera claims the contract between the two was breached and wrongfully terminated by the cable operator.

Al Jazeera filed the lawsuit under seal, with both parties claiming that secrecy was required to protect commercially sensitive information regarding their carriage deal.

Objections to the redacted court filings had been made by media outlets including the Associated Press, Bloomberg News and Dow Jones – and Judge Sam Glasscock has empathised.

"Those who decide to litigate in a public forum (rather than pursue in a private dispute resolution procedure) must do so in a manner consistent with the right of the public to follow and monitor the proceedings and result of the dispute," Judge Glasscock wrote in his opinion.

AT&T says it does not plan to appeal the court's decision, but will defend itself against Al Jazeera, who it says has "mischaracterised the facts" which led to the termination of the U-Verse carriage deal.

"To us, the important issue is Al Jazeera's breach of our agreement, and we look forward to presenting that evidence to the court," said an AT&T spokesman.

Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request for comment. At the dawn of the dispute in August, however, the broadcaster said: "AT&T's decision to unilaterally delete Al Jazeera America presented us with circumstances that were untenable – an affiliate that has wilfully and knowingly breached its contractual obligations.

"We had no choice but to take this action and to enforce Al Jazeera's rights under its agreement with AT&T – and to compel AT&T to do the right thing."

Al Jazeera acquired Al Gore's Current TV network in January, to gain a long-awaited foothold into the US through its existing affiliation agreements with carriers such as AT&T.