Last week in its coverage on the Worner / Harrison affair, 7:30 referred back to a 1996 incident in which a Today Tonight story on then-Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett was held over after instructions from senior management.
The story was about the Premier’s ties with pokie boss Bruce Mathieson.
Host Jill Singer collapsed during the TT program and reporters were told the next day their contracts would not be renewed. Singer later told Four Corners it was withheld “to placate the Premier” (who as it happens, now sits on the Seven West Media board). Like it or not, the allegation has lived on as media folklore ever since…
But former Seven Network executive Laurie Patton, who was responsible for News and Current Affairs at Seven at the time, objected to 7:30 re-airing the suggestion last week and complained to news boss Gaven Morris, executive producer Jo Puccini, host Leigh Sales and even managing director Michelle Guthrie last week. He claims the Singer version is incorrect.
He writes in Crikey today, “On the day concerned, the network’s in-house counsel, Michael Lloyd-Jones, traveled to Melbourne from Sydney and viewed the Kennett story in the company of external senior counsel. Late in the afternoon, I received advice from Lloyd-Jones that the journalists involved in producing the story had failed to provide Kennett with the right to respond to the allegations they were intending to make against him, as was the legal precedent prevailing at the time pursuant to the Theophanous ruling (subsequently reversed).
“The story was simply held over so that this legal requirement could be fulfilled. The executive producer of the program was informed in advance of its scheduled airing that it could definitely run the following night once Kennett had been contacted. There was never any suggestion this would not be the case. It ran unchanged.”
On Friday 7:30 read a statement saying, “We stand by the story but should have included that Channel Seven maintains that it held the story over for legal reasons.”
Patton remains unhappy there was not further clarification from ABC.
“As it stands, the retraction made on Friday and currently included at the head of the online version of the 7.30 story leaves open the interpretation that the ABC still believes Singer, and not me or Lloyd-Jones,” he writes.