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

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) - Al Jazeera must unseal its lawsuit against AT&T Inc within five business days after a Delaware judge sided on Monday with news organizations that objected to secrecy in the case.

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

The two sides have sought to keep under seal all information regarding their contract, which Al Jazeera said was breached and wrongfully terminated by AT&T. The two argued that making such information public would hurt their negotiations with other channels and cable companies.

The heavily redacted court filings prompted objections from news organizations including the Associated Press, Bloomberg News and Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

Sam Glasscock, the judge overseeing the case, said he found that 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 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," Glasscock wrote in a 19-page opinion.

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

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

AT&T, which has said Al Jazeera's lawsuit mischaracterized the dispute, said it did not plan to appeal. "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 Marty Richter, an AT&T spokesman, in an emailed statement.

Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

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

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

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Leslie Gevirtz and Matthew Lewis)

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