US judge rules that Al Jazeera, AT&T must disclose details of dispute

Al Jazeera and AT&T have until Monday to make public an ongoing legal dispute over broadcasting rights in the United States, a judge has ruled.

The decision was made in a Delaware court earlier this week after news outlets challenged the secrecy of a lawsuit filed by the Qatar-based news network against AT&T, which declined to run the new Al Jazeera America (AJAM) channel just before it launched in August.

The channel, Qatar’s bid to reach the elusive American market, has a reach of 45 million cable subscribers, but only attracted some 54,000 viewers when it started.

Both Al Jazeera and AT&T have sought to keep the dispute under wraps, with lawyers arguing that the terms of their agreement shouldn’t be made public for competitors to see, Bloomberg (one of the companies that challenged the filings) reports.

According to Reuters, judge Sam Glasscock said: “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.”

The two parties could still appeal to the Supreme Court of Delaware to keep their dispute private, but AT&T said it does plan to challenge the decision. Speaking to Reuters, a company spokeswoman said: “To us, the important issue is Al Jazeera’s breach of our agreement, and we look forward to presenting that evidence to the court.”

In August, AJAM said it was pursuing legal action against AT&T for violating its contract with Current TV, which Al Jazeera Media Network acquired in January. The reported $500 million deal gave the network access to distribution agreements with cable providers in the US, a market it has been trying to reach for a long time.

In August, a spokesman said: “Al Jazeera America’s strong hope is to resolve this matter quickly so that AT&T’s customers will have access to our unbiased, fact-based and in depth coverage of the news that is important to Americans.”

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