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TV Networks Ask Courts to Keep Contracts Private in Comcast Merger Review

Broadcasters are suing to keep contracts private in the Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV reviews.

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CBS, Walt Disney Co. and other media companies asked a federal appeals court Thursday to help keep their programming contracts private during the government’s review of Comcast’s deal to acquire Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s deal to acquire DirecTV.

The companies are worried details about their contracts will leak to competitors and harm them in future negotiations.

The companies asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn a Federal Communications Commission decision that would allow outside parties involved in the reviews to see the sensitive documents. They are concerned competitors would use the data during future contract negotiations even though the information is only supposed to be used in relation to the Comcast* and AT&T deals.

Media companies involved in the suit are CBS, Scripps Networks, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner Inc., 21st Century Fox, Univision and Viacom. The companies filed a similar lawsuit earlier this week but had to refile it Thursday because of some procedural issues.

The issue is in some ways a sideshow to the main issues involving the government’s reviews of the two deals, but it has had an impact on the timing. The FCC stopped its informal shot clock for considering the deal last month, after the media companies raised concerns about the agency sharing the programming contracts with outside lawyers.

The companies argued that even though they aren’t part of either the Comcast or AT&T deal reviews, the FCC action “has the effect of giving third parties access that would otherwise never be available to the petitioners’ highly confidential affiliation, distribution, and retransmission consent agreements-and information relating to the negotiation and documentation of those agreements.”

Three years ago, government officials looked at similar contracts during their review of Comcast’s deal to acquire NBCUniversal. FCC officials didn’t get their own copies of the documents; they looked at the contracts obtained by the Justice Department. Since the Justice Department’s review process is private — unlike the FCC’s review — there was no concern about outside parties seeing the sensitive documents.

This time, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made it clear he wants his own copies of the documents. The agency’s two Republican members have objected, saying it’s not necessary.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment.

Without action by the appeals court, those documents would be available for viewing at the FCC on Monday afternoon by lawyers for public interest groups, programmers and other pay-TV providers, according to a lawyer for the broadcasters.

* Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Recode’s parent company.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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