Al Jazeera America wants AT&T dispute details to remain secret

American news channel Al Jazeera Satellite Network wants details of its contract dispute with AT&T (NYSE: T) to remain secret.

The dispute revolves around why AT&T decided to bar Al Jazeera America from its U-verse TV lineup when the new network bought and rebranded Al Gore's money-losing Current TV channel. The two parties haven't said, but a Delaware chancery court judge ordered them to 'fess up as part of a lawsuit challenging the ban, Bloomberg reports.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera Satellite Network, however, claimed that releasing the information will create the risk of "serious economic loss" and asked the Delaware Supreme Court to reverse the ruling.

Al Jazeera's lawyer, Andrew Deutsch contended that the network has demonstrated that it would be "substantially injured" if the agreement's details are revealed, noting "there's no evidence that the public has any interest in the terms of this contract."

Josh Friedlander, a lawyer for media outlets disagreed.

"It's a substantial dispute that affects the public in a substantial way," Friedlander told the Delaware Supreme Court. "You're talking about a new network looking for access to the American market."

Delaware's chancery court is the highest profile business litigation forum in the United States. Its rulings go directly to the state Supreme Court for review.

For its part, AT&T wants no part of the dispute.

"We didn't take a position on Al Jazeera's appeal and we were not involved in today's arguments," AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. "This is Al Jazeera's issue and not ours."

The issue arose when Al Jazeera sued AT&T because it refused to carry the new channel as a substitute for Current TV. AT&T said it couldn't agree to terms with the new channel.

The appeal came up after reporters for Bloomberg News and the Associated Press, along with a stringer for the New York Times challenged the companies' decision to black out parts of the suit against AT&T, the Bloomberg story said.

The dispute also comes to light as Al Jazeera apparently struggles to build a successful business case. Recently the channel, which started with 12 news bureaus and 850 employees, disbanded its sports unit, scaled back its social media show The Stream from daily to once-a-week and laid off "dozens of employees."

"The majority of people affected were freelancers and many of the staff either came from the sports group or from The Stream," Dawn Bridges, executive vice president corporate communications, told The Hollywood Reporter.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg story
- and this Fox News story on recent layoffs

Related articles:
Judge orders Al Jazeera, AT&T to open up details of contract dispute
TWC, Bright House to launch Al Jazeera America
AT&T drops Al Jazeera; Verizon agrees with CBS

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