Washington Appeals Court: Retrans Contracts Covered By PRA

A Washington state appeals court has overturned an injunction that prevented the city-owned (Tacoma, Wash.) cable system, Click!, from making unredacted copies of retransmission consent contracts with broadcasters public.

Tacoma News Inc., which publishes The News Tribune newspaper, sought copies of the contracts via the Public Records Act (PRA), but a lower court granted broadcasters' request for an injunction against their release. Those broadcasters were Belo, Tribune and CBS.

Broadcasters argued that the contract's prices were trade secrets exempt from the PRA or alternately are exempted by federal regulations and that releasing the confidential information would harm them because other cable systems would use the information to negotiate lower fees. Broadcasters and Click! agreed that disclosure would harm Click! and the public because it would discourage broadcasters from contracting with them because Click! could not promise confidentiality.

The appeals court disagreed. "Tacoma News persuasively argues that the public has a right to know how Click!, a city owned enterprise, is spending public funds," said the court. "Disclosure in this instance is in the public's interest because the information involves expenditure of public funds."

"We hold that the RCA pricing information is not a trade secret and that the broadcasters failed to meet their burden of proving that the non-cash compensation information in the agreements qualifies as a trade secret," the court ruled. "Additionally, the federal regulations cited by the broadcasters do not qualify as an 'other statute' under the PRA which exempts the pricing information from disclosure. Moreover, the broadcasters failed to establish the requirements for an injunction under the PRA. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it enjoined disclosure of the unredacted records."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.