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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tory Shepherd

Chequed out: Channel Seven pays the price for Bruce Lehrmann Spotlight revelation

Bruce Lehrmann is seen during a break at the federal court where the trial in his defamation cases against Network Ten continues. The court heard Seven had paid Lehrmann $4,000 a fortnight for accommodation.
Bruce Lehrmann is seen during a break at the federal court where the trial in his defamation cases against Network Ten continues. The court heard Seven had paid Lehrmann $4,000 a fortnight for accommodation. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Among the names mentioned in connection with Seven West Media this year – Ben Roberts-Smith, Bruce Lehrmann, Kerry Stokes, and so on – readers are probably less familiar with Jeff Howard.

Howard, the chief financial officer, will take the helm from James Warburton after Seven’s annus horribilis, or at least annus mediocris. Stokes, as chair, announced Howard would take over as managing director and chief executive officer in the second half of 2024.

This week, the Walkley Foundation stripped Seven’s Spotlight of its finalist nomination for the episode featuring Bruce Lehrmann. In the ongoing defamation trial Lehrmann has launched against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson, it was revealed Channel Seven paid $4,000 a fortnight for Lehrmann’s accommodation – which some might call chequebook journalism.

Spotlight didn’t win the scoop category, but now it has also lost the cachet of being a finalist.

It also can’t have been easy at Seven West Media during the legal actions around Ben Roberts-Smith, which Seven’s chair, Kerry Stokes, bankrolled through his private company.

The Stan documentary Ben Roberts-Smith: Truth on Trial will drop this Sunday.

However, the editorial rollercoaster doesn’t seem to have dented Warburton’s reputation – there’s nothing of the “more time with family” vibe about his departure.

Meanwhile, Seven is set to launch a new (digital) national masthead in 2024. “The Nightly will bring audiences the best and most prestigious of Seven West Media’s journalism along with international content from the likes of The New York Times, The Economist and CNBC,” its job ads say.

It’s not just cricket

Author and journalist Gideon Haigh may have burned his bridges leaving News Corp, after accusing the news behemoth of acting like both a cult and a toddler (one might argue that egos are the common denominator there).

After 12 years writing a cricketing column at The Australian, Gideon left in October because – as he told the Betoota Advocate podcast – he wanted to write on other topics. The Oz, apparently, wanted him to stay on his pitch.

And so Haigh found, as others have before him, that the second you quit News Corp, you cease to exist.

“I departed to the sound of my own feet,” he told ABC Radio National.

“When you leave The Australian it’s a little like leaving a cult, your name is never to be mentioned again. But that’s fine, I had a good run there.”

“It’s a little bit like dealing with a toddler who wants to break a toy rather than share it with someone else,” he told the podcast.

As for rumours he was writing a book about former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, he said he “couldn’t possibly comment”.

“But, look, I can do what I like. It’s kind of fun,” he said.

Guardian Australia has contacted News Corp Australia for comment.

The hardest word

The last sitting week in Canberra is often a hectic maelstrom of soirees and strops. Frazzled politicians, staffers and journalists are counting down the ringing bells until the Christmas break.

It was in this febrile atmosphere that attorney general Mark Dreyfus – who has been having a rough time in both a personal and a policy sense – snapped at Sky News reporter Olivia Caisley when asked whether he should apologise over the release of detainees (ordered by the high court) who went on to offend against the public.

Dreyfus called the question “absurd”.

After Caisley’s colleagues cried foul over the outburst, Dreyfus apologised.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said Dreyfus had “had a courteous discussion with her”.

The apology is an interesting precedent to set in a place where people are regularly very rude to one another. Will any MP have to apologise if the white knights crusade for it? Do people only get on their high horses when the “villain” is on the other team? Was the apology only necessary because Caisley is a woman? Or because it happened on television?

More away than home

A woman is missing. 66,000 people have called in. There are posters, social media pleas. You can dial a 1800 number to hear her last phone call.

It’s a terrifying situation – except the “victim” is fictional.

Channel Seven is trying to keep fans “hooked on Home and Away over the break and build engagement with light and lapsed viewers” with the Bring Eden Home campaign.

An “epic cliffhanger” at the end of the season left Cash Newman (Nicholas Cartwright) searching for Eden Fowler (Stephanie Panozzo). Now a marketing campaign is emulating the “true-to-life trauma” by asking viewers to call a 1800 number to hear Eden’s last phone call.

(Warning: the “trauma” may be because it feels a little like you’re hacking into a missing person’s phone).

When you call the number, you hear Eden’s voicemail message, followed by Cash begging her to tell him where she is. That’s followed by:

“Your call has been disconnected. For more information watch Home and Away …”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's logo above the entrance to the ABC Southbank Centre in Melbourne.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's logo above the entrance to the ABC Southbank Centre in Melbourne. Photograph: Benjamin Crone/Alamy

National treasure

This week the ABC celebrated Radio National’s 100th birthday – sort of.

Back on 5 December 1923, 2FC broadcast its first show – more than a decade before it became RN in 1932.

2FC was the first licensed radio station, back when someone had the genius idea that that stations would sell sets to “listeners-in” that would only play that one station.

While it scored the licence first, 2FC was actually pipped to the post by 2SB, which later became ABC Radio Sydney.

2SB’s first broadcast, on 23 November 1923, was of the St Andrews Choir performing Le Cygne (The Swan) from The Carnival of the Animals.

Technically 2SB was not actually the first either. The first broadcast was in 1919, when the Amalgamated Wireless Australasia’s George Fisk had the national anthem broadcast from one building to another.

Stereotypes not sexist

Ad Standards has dismissed a sexism complaint against a News Corp ad, saying just because it used outdated stereotypes does not mean it was negative.

The ad shows a woman appearing uninterested in a story about sport, but more interested in one headlined “Ex-NRL star in new show”. The complaint was that it “reinforces harmful, old fashioned and lazy stereotypes about women”.

“It is sexist,” the complainant said.

News Corp removed the ad “without any admission of any kind” and said it was not discriminatory, and did not have negative stereotypes.

The panel agreed that the stereotype was outdated, but “not itself inherently negative” and that it showed a couple “who are interested in different things”.

It was certainly more subtle than back in 2015 when the late Barry Humphries appeared both as Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson in News Corp ads.

In one ad, Patterson took a call from Jennifer Hawkins with a sleazy “hello darling”, before making tawdry comments about various sport players and unsavoury comments about a set of beautiful blond twins as they flanked him.

Jones and journos

The Venn diagram of news ownership was on display in the wake of allegations of indecent assault against broadcaster Alan Jones (his lawyers say the claims, in Nine newspapers, are “demonstrably false”).

2GB breakfast host Ben Fordham told listeners the allegations would be “confronting for many 2GB listeners”, because of Jones’s long stint at the station.

And Nine Entertainment, which now wholly owns 2GB as well as the newspapers, also sent an email to staff acknowledging the story might “be distressing for current or former employees”. Human resources pointed them to a dedicated phone line.

Meanwhile, Nine newspapers are cracking down their comment sections by making them subscriber only. There will also be suspensions and bans for “commenters who circulate misinformation, incite conflict or who we reasonably believe are conducting an organised campaign”.

The move could also help the poor moderators tackle the trolls who, say, try to get defamatory material about high-profile Australians published.

• Amanda Meade will return to Weekly Beast later in December

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