A couple of times in the past six weeks, Crikey has noted the campaign to undermine Jim Waley as host of the fading Nine News in Sydney at 6 pm weeknights.

This is come through cute stories about how his rival, Sunday night news anchor, Mark Ferguson, appeals to younger viewers and younger women in particular.

Tales in the Sydney newspaper gossip columns about how young women were mailing their knickers to Mark and how this doesn’t happen with Jim. Chatty little comments about how young and spunky Ferguson is. Well, yes he is younger than Jim, just as anyone in their late thirties is younger than anyone in their mid fifties. And this week another round was fired in the Sydney Confidential gossip and sneer pages of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“The Fergo army has launched a full scale attack” Jim Waley was warned in yet another snipe over THAT flak jacket in Baghdad.
“Confidential has been told in no uncertain terms that Mark Ferguson is the man Sydney viewers want to see while downing their microwaved feasts each night.” The Tele quoted one member of the anti-Waley forces, called Stephen. “If Channel 9 were smart they would quickly move Fergo to the 6pm news to stop the bleeding. Ian Ross is only on top because he has no competition with Jim Waley.”

And there was Nine CEO barking down the phone to another gossip columnist in last weekend’s press that Jim Waley wasn’t going anywhere because when you are paid as much as Jim is paid you can’t afford to leave, or words to that effect. Those comments went down a treat apparently around Nine, and Mr Gyngell hasn’t been as on the record this week.

And Amanda Meade’s long story and commentary in The Australian’s Media section this week – Nervous Nine bosses feeling the heat as ratings fall – was the first major piece in the mainstream press to speculate about Waley’s future, and that too of Ray Martin at ACA and look at the situation at the top-rating network’s problems in its most important hour, without spin coming from Nine (as in other pieces that quoted the former News chief, Jim Rudder, or Gyngell).

And while it did that it certainly wasn’t in the category of ‘planted’ gossip about knickers, young women fans or an anti-Waley army. But seeing Mark Ferguson was in the chair last week for most of the news in Sydney while Jim Waley did crosses and a story a night from Iraq, how did the program go? Bloody awfully would be a colourful description.Nine’s Sydney news ratings were down 23% last week to an average audience for Sydney of 370,000 or so people. Seven’s were up 15% on a year earlier to 390,000 average.That loss at Nine was the same as the week before with Jim in the chair.A bloody awful result for both weeks.

And I known Mark Ferguson doesn’t have the gig yet and when he probably gets it it will be different so far as viewers are concerned. But he had an awful lot of screen time last week. Saturday through to last Friday at 6pm. That the Sunday night news does well for Nine is no great criteria to push Jim and put Ferguson in there.Jim Waley and Ian Ross got great numbers when they were doing Sunday nights. (The Saturday evening news numbers are quite often much lower than Sunday evening, a strange, strange habit people have).

Sunday evening six pm, watch the Nine News must hardwired into a lot of Australian minds. Its a habit that’s hard to kick. And yet, it obviously hasn’t translated for Jim Waley. From Sunday evenings to weekday evenings at 6pm is a big leap it seems. But there’s clearly a campaign to destabilise Jim Waley and force him from the news, before someone at Nine or PBL has to get blood on their hands.

John Alexander wouldn’t risk a direct action. He would get someone else to do it if it became a Park Street objective. Like he got Peter Meakin to sack Michael Pascoe as Nine’s Finance Editor. That saw Meakin resign. But Alexander was quick to employ Ross Greenwood as Pascoe’s replacement.In fact Greenwood was in the wings, waiting.

So either David Gyngell will have to do it if its ordained in Park Street, or Packer will himself. He twisted Waley’s arm to do the 6pm news, so its really up to him. But the whole campaign floating out of Willoughby and Park Street is so typically Nine.

Either that or the Tele’s got it in for Jim, just as they have it in for Mark Latham. Iron Mark and Iron Jim. Go the iron bar Jim!

Peter Fray

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