TVBizwire

TV Broadcasters Sue to Keep Rates Secret From Public Bellingham Herald

The corporate owners of four television broadcasters have taken the government to court to try to prevent financial agreements from being made public.

The companies, which own four local TV outlets in Washington state, have separately sued municipally owned Click Cable TV, the Bellingham, Wash., Herald reports. The case also involves the newspaper The News Tribune.

“On Friday, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper is set to weigh arguments from all sides during a hearing to decide whether the court should grant a preliminary injunction to stop the records from being disclosed to the newspaper. If granted, the order would temporarily halt release of the records pending a full-blown trial over the issue,” the story reports.

“The broadcast companies are prepared to contend the records -- so-called ‘retransmission agreements’ that detail how much they charge Click to air broadcast signals for KING, KOMO, KIRO, KCPQ and KSTW -- contain protected trade secrets that are exempt from public disclosure.”

Joan Nicolais, a senior executive with CBS, which owns KSTW-TV, gave a statement to the court in which she said the forced disclosure of those trade secrets “would be extraordinary and unprecedented in the industry,” the story reports.

The broadcasters argue that disclosure would financially harm them by undermining their negotiating positions nationwide, the piece reports. They also suggest “it would raise rates for local subscribers of Click and the few other municipally owned cable systems nationwide,” the story says.

The statement from CBS’s Nicolais adds: “Broadcasters aware of the likelihood that the rates negotiated with such a provider will become public may be inclined to seek a premium over the rate they would have otherwise accepted because other, private operators may seek to use the municipal rate as a ceiling for the rates they should have paid.”

The News Tribune says the documents are not trade secrets and cites the state’s Public Records Act, which it says requires that the contracts be released as a matter of public interest.

James Beck, an attorney for The News Tribune, argues in a written statement to the court: “A contract with a public agency is, at least in Washington, subject to public inspection under the (Public Records Act).”

The report adds: “Click’s representatives, who so far have provided the newspaper copies of some of the agreements but with all fee information blacked out, said they’re ready to release the full records should a judge so order it.”