Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.

Kerry Stokes has sent in Alan Bond’s former right hand man, David Aspinall, to fix up Channel Seven Melbourne and television observers are watching for the axe to fall.

“When he gets on the tram he sacks the conductor,” said Melbourne top wit Ross Stevenson when the subject of the Seven axeman came up the other day.

So far Aspinall, a former righthand man to Alan Bond in Perth and someone who therefore once ran the Network, has weilded the axe in a relatively light mannner. There is blood smattered throughout the corridors at Dorcas Street but no more than occurs on about a four yearly cycle. The heads of Seven News, Neil Miller, and Today Tonight, Shane Castlemaine, have rolled, leaving the entire station wondering what’s going to happen next. Former Nine A Current Affair boss Neil Mooney has taken over at Today Tonight and from what we observe has injected some feeling into presenter Naomi Robson (count how many times she uses her hands now and offers opinions). She’s still not a patch on our Mike Munro.

But over at the newsroom, a stone’s throw from the Today Tonight office, they are stuck in the doldrums. The new boss, former Ten news editor Rob Olney, doesn’t start until next Monday (June 5) because of contractual problems with Ten. That’s left the 50 odd journalists, producers, techo people and, especially, news readers David Johnston and Ann Fulwood, feeling like a shag on a rock, or rudderless is probably a better expression, as they wait for Aspinall’s man Olney to ride into Dorcas Street and deliver the good/bad news.

Seven insiders and everyone else know the big question is not what new colors and sets the Seven news adopts but what happens with the news readers. David Johnston came to Seven from Ten with Neil Miller about four years ago. Ann Fulwood came via Adelaide and Sydney last year.

Together they haven’t set the ratings on fire. Seven comes a decent or distant second to us at Nine on most nights. Even after news legend Brian Naylor retired and Nine promoted Peter Hitchener last year, Nine has stayed in front in the crucial six o’clock market and then again in the 6.30 battle between Nine’s A Current Affair and Today Tonight.

“We should be asking Naylor for a refund,” my boss at Nine John Sorrell quipped/joked/growled recently. (Take your pick: most journalists normally relate growling with Sorrell, even though he has a heart of gold and a reputation for looking after former news directors).

If heads roll, most expect Peter Mitchell, the 40 year old man in waiting for so many years, to get the top readers job, rising from solid performer on weekends to the Monday to Friday job. There’s speculation that Ann Fulwood may be moved to weekends, or that young budding journalists Jennifer Adams will be catapulted into the weekend readers desk.

Fulwood originally came to Melbourne partly to be with new boyfriend Geoff Brown, a lawyer who also doubles as Eddie McGuire’s manager. Maybe she’ll finish up with us over here at Nine.

David Aspinall has made some changes at Seven News in South Melbourne. Insiders report that after years of putting up with threadbare carpet, a stained ceiling, dirty curtains and windows and general office decay, every thing has been fixed. They’re actually spending money on the place, sprucing up the building, showing management cares about the image and working conditions in the news room. Under Aspinall and his deputy Ian Audsley, the newsroom computers have been unlocked and given (wait for it…drum roll………) email and internet capabilities!!! Yes, in the year 2000, the nerve centre of the newsroom actually got internet and email. Why over hear at Nine, we’ve been connected for two years. Although the order to rip down every poster, picture and old contact lists stuck on the walls at Seven apparently upset a few of the old timers.

On Tuesday last week Aspinall slowly walked over to the big studio seven to make his first address to the staff. And by all accounts it was positive. Some Seven staff feared the worst but ended up with guarantees that Seven Melbourne would become the heart of TV and film production in Australia, that a new company Seven Resources would even buiild a new studio in South Melbourne (on top of the digital studios underway at the Doglands..go Dogs!), that no one would lose their job, that Seven had weighed up outsourcing against insourcing and come down on the side of using hundreds of years of TV production experience in all the cameramen, audio people, producers and “cable pullers” at Seven. Now people have heard job guarantees before but a lot of people actually felt upbeat after the meeting.

Aspinall even added that more resources would be thrown at Seven News and Today Tonight. Maybe because a few salaries are about to be freed up. Maybe because Network owner and boss Kerry Stokes is finally serious about having a real dip at Nine’s news and current affairs dominance.

Seven has tried before with Paul Barry and Witness and Jana Wendt but they’ve never been able to knock us off at Nine and never will.

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today