Al Jazeera-AT&T lawsuit to stay under wraps during appeal

Fri Oct 18, 2013 1:57pm EDT

The AT&T logo is pictured by its store in Carlsbad, California, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The AT&T logo is pictured by its store in Carlsbad, California, April 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - A legal fight over AT&T Inc's refusal to carry the U.S. news channel of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera can remain under wraps for now, despite a ruling by a Delaware state judge earlier this week lifting the secrecy in the case.

Judge Sam Glasscock approved on Wednesday a stipulation allowing the case to remain under seal while Al Jazeera appeals his previous ruling in favor of news organizations that wanted the case in the open.

The lawsuit stems from AT&T's refusal to carry a news channel launched by Al Jazeera in the United States in August. Al Jazeera sued AT&T in Delaware's Court of Chancery, saying AT&T had broken and wrongfully terminated their contract.

Both sides said the case should be kept secret, arguing that making such information public would hurt their negotiations with other channels and cable companies.

The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and others protested the extensive use of confidential filings in the lawsuit, and Glasscock ordered the case unsealed on Monday.

The stipulation approved by Glasscock will keep the filings confidential to protect Al Jazeera should it be successful as it appeals his previous order to Delaware's Supreme Court.

The appeal could take a year before it is heard and decided.

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

It bought Current TV, founded by former U.S. vice president Al Gore, in January, taking on its distribution agreements with carriers such as AT&T, which says it reaches 5 million viewers.

AT&T has said Al Jazeera's lawsuit mischaracterized the dispute and that Al Jazeera is the one in breach of an agreement.

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

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del.; editing by Matthew Lewis)