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Walt Disney, CBS ask court to keep docs secret

Major media companies are asking a federal appeals court to keep secret the terms of their TV contracts while regulators review a pair of major media mergers.

Companies including Walt Disney, CBS and Viacom on Monday asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to step in and block a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision that would have forced them to reveal the terms of their business deals. 

Those deals are part of the public review of Comcast’s $45 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s $48 billion plan to buy DirecTV.

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The companies say revealing the detail of their business deals “will cause substantial harm” to them “and the highly competitive programming marketplace in which they operate.”

The request of the court came after the FCC voted on Monday to require the companies to release their filings. That 3-2 vote, which occurred along party lines, confirmed a decision from the FCC’s media bureau last week. 

Under the FCC’s order, companies don’t have to reveal the documents until Nov. 17, which should allow them enough time to “seek judicial review, including a judicial stay, before access to the documents begins,” an agency spokesman said.

Ajit Pai, one of the Republican FCC commissioners who opposed the order, accused the agency of using “procedural shenanigans” to force the release of the documents.

Third parties should not be able to access the documents while objections remain pending at the FCC or a court, Pai said, and the FCC ought to respect the "extremely sensitive nature” of the companies’ contracts.

The question of how and whether outside parties should have access to the sensitive business documents has caused a hiccup for both the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV mergers, which are currently under review at the FCC and the Justice Department. A prolonged court battle could draw the issue out further. 

Company officials have hoped for regulatory review to be completed in the next few months.