WASHINGTON — Walt Disney Co., a vigorous critic of Time Warner Inc.'s proposed merger with America Online Inc., will be allowed to resume viewing confidential merger documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission after taking steps to preserve their secrecy.
The FCC on Wednesday issued an order reversing earlier restrictions on Disney, applied after discovery that outside counsel to Disney had passed on information to company officials who had not signed confidentiality agreements.
Walt Disney, which owns the ABC broadcast network, has admitted that lawyer Larry Duncan of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand sent an e-mail on Sept. 22 to Disney's top Washington lobbyists, Preston Padden and Marsha MacBride, that summarized information culled from documents about the merger.
Padden responded to the e-mail, dropping a copy to Disney President Robert Iger, among others, who had not signed secrecy agreements.
Verner Liipfert and Disney have said they deeply regret the incident and no Disney recipient made any use of the information. Both firms have established new procedures for segregating confidential material.
"We find that the measures represent a realistic and good faith attempt to avoid future violations," the FCC order said.
Disney has been one of the most outspoken critics of AOL's $92-billion purchase of Time Warner, fearing discrimination against Disney content if federal regulators do not impose strict conditions on the combining companies.
Time Warner's cable systems imposed a 36-hour blackout of the ABC network in May when the two sides were temporarily unable to reach a deal for continued carriage.
The merger is also under antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice.