I can tell you that DirecTV today filed a breach of contract complaint against Al Jazeera America. I can tell you that the civil case complaint demands a 10-day jury trial and seeks more than $25,000 but also is looking for declaratory relief. Finally, I can tell you that the 17-page filing by the satellite service provider has something to do with the Affiliation Agreement that DirecTV entered into with AJAM predecessor Current TV back on July 13, 2005, just over two weeks before the channel co-owned by Al Gore debuted. Beyond that, and who the plaintiffs’ lawyers are, virtually everything else in the complaint (read it here) is redacted. DirecTV reps had no comment when I contacted them about the blacked-out filing. Al Jazeera America weren’t saying much either. “We have not reviewed the complaint and therefore have no comment,” an AJAM spokesperson told me today. A non-redacted version also has been filed in LA Superior but is under seal, I’ve learned.
Could this complaint be something similar to when Time Warner Cable dropped Al Jazeera America from its service minutes after the Qatar-owned news channel bought Current TV for $500 million back in January 2013. Saying it didn’t consent to the sale, TWC jettisoned AJAM. The new station launched on August 20 that year, and a few months later the two sides made up and TWC started carrying the channel in early December. Then there was the case of AJAM and AT&T. Citing an inability to settle contract disputes, the latter dumped the former from its U-verse pay-TV service in August 2013. Without revealing much of the details of said dispute, the two sides went to court, with AJAM claiming the dropping was really about political sentiment against the Middle East-originating news organization. Again, eventually, everyone made nice and reached an undisclosed settlement last month that sees AJAM on the AT&T service. Will this latest lawsuit result in more of the same? We obviously don’t know that yet, but we do know that AT&T plans on acquiring DirecTV in a $48.5 billion stock-and-cash deal reached on May 18. That deal is now under the scrutiny of the FCC and facing a shareholder class action lawsuit. So what’s the real play, boys, and what are you really hiding?
Michael Baumann, Melissa Ingalls and Shaun Paisley of LA firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP are representing DirecTV in the case.