AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson slammed reports the company was poised to sell CNN to close its Time Warner acquisition, adding it would rather go to court than dispose of its content assets.

The company is in negotiations with the Department of Justice (DoJ) in a bid to persuade the authority to clear the $85 billion acquisition, which was first announced back in October 2016.

In the last week, speculation has been rife AT&T was set to sell CNN or other assets in order to strike a deal with the DoJ.

However, speaking at the New York Times Dealbook conference yesterday, Stephenson (pictured) confirmed reports suggesting the company would sell CNN – or even that the DoJ had asked it to – were completely false.

“I have never been told the price of the deal was selling CNN, period. Likewise I have never offered to sell CNN, and there is absolutely no intention we would sell CNN,” he said.

“One of the key benefits of putting these two companies together [AT&T and Time Warner] is to stand up a new advertising capability,” he clarified. “It’s why you did the deal and where the synergies come from. It’s where the benefits and the consumer benefits come from.”

Discussing the company’s wide content portfolio, including CNN, he added: “We would move to litigation rather than sell them.”

Souring tone
AT&T has been in discussions with US authorities since July and, having initially been bullish on the likely outcome, the mood has turned significantly more gloomy over recent days.

Prior to negotiations, Stephenson said the deal was “clean” and repeatedly stated he believed getting it through would be a relatively smooth process.

In August reports claimed negotiations with the DoJ were “progressing well”, however at yesterday’s conference Stephenson spent more time discussing potential litigation than talking-up the progress being made.

Last month the company pushed back its timeline for completing the deal for a “short period of time,” having originally believed it would already be complete by the end of October. This week AT&T CFO John Stephens, speaking at an investor conference, admitted: “I can now say that the timing of the closing of the deal is now uncertain”.