Delaware judge lifts secrecy surrounding Al Jazeera-AT&T case

Reuters

* Details of AT&T-Al Jazeera contract could be unsealed

* AT&T dropped Al Jazeera America on eve of launch

* Al Jazeera appeal could prevent details from being madepublic

By Tom Hals

Oct 14 (Reuters) - Al Jazeera must unseal its lawsuitagainst AT&T Inc within five business days after aDelaware judge sided on Monday with news organizations thatobjected to secrecy in the case.

The dispute stems from AT&T's refusal to carry the U.S. newsnetwork that was launched by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera inAugust.

The two sides have sought to keep under seal all informationregarding their contract, which Al Jazeera said was breached andwrongfully terminated by AT&T. The two argued that making suchinformation public would hurt their negotiations with otherchannels and cable companies.

The heavily redacted court filings prompted objections fromnews organizations including the Associated Press, BloombergNews and Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

Sam Glasscock, the judge overseeing the case, said he foundthat neither Al Jazeera nor AT&T established that "good cause"existed to keep the pertinent aspects of lawsuit under seal.

"Those who decide to litigate in a public forum (rather thanpursue in a private dispute resolution procedure) must do so ina manner consistent with the right of the public to follow andmonitor the proceedings and result of the dispute," Glasscockwrote in a 19-page opinion.

The judge also ordered unsealed a transcript from a Sept. 24hearing.

But the details of the lawsuit may still remain out of thepublic eye. Glasscock said the parties could appeal and ask theSupreme Court of Delaware to keep the case under wraps.

AT&T, which has said Al Jazeera's lawsuit mischaracterizedthe dispute, said it did not plan to appeal. "To us, theimportant issue is Al Jazeera's breach of our agreement, and welook forward to presenting that evidence to the court," saidMarty Richter, an AT&T spokesman, in an emailed statement.

Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request forcomment.

Al Jazeera reaches more than 250 million viewers globally,but has had a tough time gaining a foothold in the United Stateswhere it has been perceived by some as anti-American.

In January, Al Jazeera bought Current TV, founded by formerU.S. vice president Al Gore, for its distribution agreementswith carriers such as AT&T, which says it reaches 5 millionviewers.

The case is Al Jazeera LLC v. AT&T Services Inc., DelawareChancery Court, No. 8823.

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