Judge issues mixed order in OAN lawsuit against DirecTV

A California judge has thrown out several provisions of One America News Network's (OAN) lawsuit against DirecTV after finding the satellite broadcaster successfully argued that its business decisions with respect to carriage of the network were protected under state law.

The lawsuit concerns several matters over a soured business dealing between OAN and DirecTV, one that ended with the upstart news network being removed from the pay TV service last year.

In March 2021, OAN's parent company Herring Networks filed a lawsuit against DirecTV in state court, arguing the company had breached its contract when it decided it would stop carrying the channel. This came after DirecTV informed Herring of its decision not renew in January 2021. The lawsuit was brought after financial news outlet Bloomberg published a story that said DirecTV would stop offering OAN to satellite subscribers that April, which it did.

At the time, OAN and similar news networks were facing serious scrutiny over its opinion programming, which offers a conservative viewpoint and has been known to float conspiracy theories related to U.S. elections, the COVID-19 vaccine and other hot-button issues.

In court documents, lawyers for Herring Networks argued that DirecTV's decision to drop OAN could have serious business implications, including forcing the company to declare bankruptcy. It later claimed DirecTV could be on the hook for over $1 billion in damages due to lost business.

But a judge last week ruled in favor of DirecTV, who argued that the bulk of OAN's lawsuit was baseless and that it violated a provision of California law known as anti-SLAPP. The provision is intended to prevent plaintiffs from bringing frivolous lawsuits against defendants who exercise certain protected rights, unless the plaintiffs can show the lawsuit has "minimal merit."

In this case, the judge said DirecTV was well within its right to drop OAN from its platform, and that it wasn't required to renew a carriage agreement for the channel merely because Herring wanted it to. The judge also found that DirecTV wasn't in breach of contract because it carried OAN until the day the agreement expired, as it was required to do.

The judge did leave one of OAN's claims open to move forward: The network argued DirecTV violated a confidentiality clause in its agreement when a company official told a Bloomberg reporter that it would stop carrying OAN on satellite by April 2022. DirecTV initially disputed it leaked the date in court, but OAN was able to produce an e-mail from DirecTV's public relations department that proved otherwise.

A ruling wasn't made either way on the contract's timing clause, but the judge indicated he would allow that portion to remain open for future findings. 

The decision to allow that part of the lawsuit to move forward means OAN may be able to collect "nominal damages, which...serve a different purpose: symbolic victory as opposed to monetary compensation," the judge wrote.

“While we’ve anticipated this positive outcome, we’re pleased the judge has ruled in our favor and stricken OAN’s central claims regarding our decision to not renew a commercial agreement with the programmer," a DirecTV spokesperson said in a statement provided to Fierce. 

A message sent to a general inquiry form on OAN's website was returned by someone identifying themselves as a customer support specialist, who said the message was forwarded to the "corresponding department" and "if they have any comments, they will contact you back directly."

Herring's lawsuit was brought against DirecTV after former-parent company AT&T spun off its pay television properties in August 2020. The spun-off business is also called DirecTV and is 70% owned by AT&T, but operates separately from the telecom. AT&T is a defendant in OAN's lawsuit against DirecTV.

Article updated to correct timing of when initial lawsuit was filed and spin-off of DirecTV from AT&T; to add comment from DirecTV; and to clarify ruling on timing clause.