The rivalry between the Nine and Seven media empires got personal this week, shifting from arguing over who won the TV ratings in 2022 to a row over a star reporter and a defamation complaint case. (For those who don’t follow such things, both networks claimed to win the ratings by measuring them differently.)
On Monday night, Kerry Stokes’s TV network aired a news story about a 60 Minutes investigation by Nine’s award-winning investigative reporter Nick McKenzie and posted several tweets promoting the story. Nine executives were furious because Seven accused McKenzie of losing a “landmark defamation” case, a claim they say is inaccurate.
On the national 6pm bulletin Seven claimed Nine had been “forced to withdraw a story and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in a defamation settlement” as a result of a McKenzie investigation for the Age and 60 Minutes.
McKenzie was the reporter on the Ben Roberts-Smith v Nine defamation case, which has caused considerable animosity between Seven and Nine. Stokes is funding the legal costs of Roberts-Smith, and the network’s commercial director, Bruce McWilliam, has attended court and given evidence.
The “landmark” defamation case referred to by Seven had no connection to Roberts-Smith.
The Seven news report appears to have been sparked by a clarification published recently by the Age after Nine reached a commercial settlement with a complainant, including paying some of his legal costs and removing the original report and some related articles. “There was no finding that any person had been defamed,” Nine said.
After letters were exchanged between the two networks Seven agreed to take down the social media posts.
The managing director of publishing at Nine, James Chessell, confirmed the company’s displeasure.
“We’re obviously very disappointed with Seven’s reporting of the matter which we don’t think reflects reality,” Chessell said. Seven said it stands by the report.
The naming of body image activist Taryn Brumfitt as 2023 Australian of the Year sparked some unseemly reactions.
The writer and director was referred to somewhat misleadingly by news.com.au as the “mum who posed nude”. What the activist did was spark a global campaign when she posted a candid photo of herself after giving birth to three children with “cellulite, stretch marks, folds, rolls, all the things”.
It was not a Playboy centrefold.
The strong public reaction to the image inspired her to write her book and film her eventual documentary Embrace.
Veteran journalists Mike Carlton and the Saturday Paper’s Paul Bongiorno were equally dismissive of the choice of Australian of the Year.
Carlton characterised the 44-year-old author on Twitter as “someone who makes a buck out of saying it’s OK to be a bit fat”, and Bongiorno agreed. Many others did not.
The founder and director of End Rape on Campus Australia, Sharna Bremner, summed up the sentiment when she tweeted: “Eating disorders are the third most common illness among young women in Australia & have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders. These two should be ashamed of their ignorance and shitty remarks.”
Swan ruffles feathers
The broadcast journalists who received a gong in the Australia Day 2023 honours were ABC veterans Norman Swan and Philip Williams as well as journalist Steve Liebmann, the founding co-host of Nine’s Today who spent 21 years on the breakfast show.
Swan and Williams both received Order of Australia medals and it’s fair to say the beloved foreign correspondent – who covered the Beslan school siege, the Madrid bombings and the Haiti earthquake among many others – was universally applauded.
Not so Swan, who has been a trusted health and science broadcaster during his 40-year career at Aunty but become a target for some on the right for his commentary on Covid-19.
The headlines in the Murdoch media were predictable, with several labelling Swan “controversial”.
Swan did nothing to win friends when he said on ABC News last year that the late senator Kimberley Kitching’s death may have been linked to Covid-19, for which he later apologised.
Murdochs making moves
On Monday, Justice Michael Wigney will decide whether Lachlan Murdoch’s bid to draw Private Media chairman, Eric Beecher, and chief executive, Will Hayward, into his defamation suit has been successful.
Ahead of the hearing in March, Murdoch is seeking to amend his claim to “prove” Beecher and Hayward were “active publishers” of the Crikey article which is the subject of the suit.
The media mogul is not expected in court.
However, Sarah Murdoch will make a rare public appearance on Thursday as the Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch Foundation steps up its philanthropic efforts.
Through the foundation the media power couple set up in 2019, they have given $10m to not-for-profits including children’s, arts, medical and women’s charities.
On Thursday, the former model and TV host will attend Royal Far West Manly, a national charity dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of country children, to launch an initiative aimed at children who have experienced natural disasters such as floods and bushfires.
The official TV ratings period doesn’t start until 12 February but a number of headline shows will be back on Monday night, including the ABC’s news and current affairs lineup of Four Corners, Media Watch and Q+A, and the commercial reality juggernauts Married at First Sight, Australian Idol and Australian Survivor.
The ABC has moved Q+A back to Mondays after a lacklustre two years on Thursday nights where it struggled to find an audience.
With Stan Grant as permanent host, the ABC is hoping audiences will embrace the pattern they got used to for 12 years.
Louise Milligan will present a Four Corners episode investigating the secretive conservative Catholic organisation Opus Dei and its alleged political influence in NSW.
The story is bound to provoke even more criticism of Milligan from columnists at the Australian, not least Gerard Henderson, who according to the Saturday Paper has mentioned the ABC journalist 446 times in 37 months.
Journalists cautioned over Last King of the Cross
We’ll have to wait until 17 February for Last King of The Cross, a dramatisation inspired by the bestselling autobiography by John Ibrahim, to debut on Ten’s streaming service Paramount+.
Lincoln Younes plays the nightclub mogul in Sydney’s Kings Cross who owned or controlled more than 40 licensed venues between 1988 and 2014.
The press kit sent out by Paramount+ indicates the media company is being very careful about the legal issues around the program. It sets out a clear warning to journalists to take care in their reporting and reviews.
“Anyone reporting, previewing, or reviewing Last King of The Cross and materials provided in relation to it including press kits is reminded that, given its subject matter, reporting on the series may raise legal issues,” the rare full-page legal warning says.
“In any event, please note that it is your responsibility to consider legal issues and seek your own legal advice as appropriate prior to publishing or broadcasting any material concerning the series.”
Producers and actors may not be able to answer certain questions and there is no guarantee that events depicted in it “are free from legal risk”.
We hope for Paramount’s sake it can avoid the legal woes faced by the ABC in 1995 with its groundbreaking drama Blue Murder, which was delayed in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory for six years after a key figure depicted, Arthur “Neddy” Smith, appealed against his life sentence.
Nine also ran into legal issues in 2008 when the first Underbelly series could not be broadcast in Victoria until the conclusion of a murder trial.