Channel Nine boss Dave Gyngell has once again turned to the AFR to explain himself, as Terry Television reports.

Just what is it about The Australian Financial Review that the Packer empire likes so much that they use it as almost a PR organ to communicate to the wider business world in Australia.

There’s James Packer chatting and giving grabs to the AFR on gaming, gambling and Betfair (surely an oxymoron). Then there’s those odd little scoopies, like the aforementioned Betfair involvement. Front page treatment for that one.

And so to Nine CEO, David Gyngell. An earlier AFR interview had him relaxed and talking about the golden treasure in Nine’s ratings, and dismissive of Seven. That Neil Shoebridge chat scored page one, as did the latest, Gyngell’s Nine faces news battle.

More a case of Dave being ‘alarmed, but not concerned’ about the shedding of audience this year, especially in the News and Current Affairs area, and very especially in Sydney. It’s been a problem that’s been around for three months and apparent for five. And only now the AFR and Nine seem to acknowledge the problem.

Certainly the Australian’s Media section was onto the story in May when Jim Rudder, the late and unlamented director of News and Current Affairs for Nine, was relaxed and unconcerned, talking about lead-ins and the like.

That wouldn’t have got him brownie points with that TV genius, John Alexander. Terry Television hears that earlier this year when the cracks were appearing in the Nine ratings for the 6-7 pm slot, Alexander rejected suggestions from Nine that it was the fault of the poor lead in program.

He was a strong believer in the content being a problem. Too down market, too tabloid (which has always been Nine News’ strength) and wanting it and A Current Affair to be more upmarket and more serious.

Hopefully Dave Gyngell won’t be brought to heel by JA for discussing the performance of Seven’s Deal or No Deal and Nine’s The Price isRight.

Anyway, no where in the AFR interview does it discuss the biggest problem Nine has at the moment in this area. That’s the fact that as the man news and current affairs reports to at the network, Gyngell has no experience whatsoever as a journalist, in any media.

He might talk about not needing the skills and the experience and having good advisers and the like, but if you don’t have the nous or experience to know when a crock of sh– is a crock of sh–, how can you ‘manage’ this highly important area effectively, and repair the damage.

As a man who made his money in surf shops, would David Gyngell employ as a manager a person who hadn’t surfed or been in the sea once in their life?

People at Nine say Kerry Packer isn’t a journalist. No he isn’t. But he has been in the media all his life. He is a very successful owner of media assets and HE has an eye for ideas in particular. Witness the Today show, 60 Minutes, Sunday and Business Sunday. Those program ideas and the passion he had to drive them into the Nine schedule and keep them there is the best answer to those who say he isn’t a journalist. And an example to Gyngell of what needs to be done.

As a contrast, John Alexander is a journalist, but while he did well in newspapers and magazines, he struggled at Nine. The best that can be said about Gyngell’s latest performance in the AFR is that he is more realistic and not as gushing about Nine’s strengths.

The strengths remain, but are looking a little tatty, especially Monday evenings and Thursdays. Friends is about to expire and there are not enough ER episodes to keep the pressure on Ten, in particular.

But as Crikey has been banging on for months now, that 6-7pm evening hour Monday to Friday is the key hour of TV every week. The way Nine and Seven operate as business units means that strength in that hour can set up strength further into the evening. Ten has vanished from the game and made its own success. The ABC doesn’t compete, and that has become a virtue for a growing band of viewers.

Nine has gradually lost ground there and it’s all been in Sydney, where Kerry Packer is THE viewer, as he’s known at Nine. Fixing that problem is the most important for Gyngell, but not the only one. By not having someone to drive the repair, Gyngell faces the growing risk of allowing problems elsewhere to fester, either in the schedule or in the rate card.

The AFR story says “Gyngell will not discuss how Nine will boost the ratings of its evening news and A Current Affair.”

‘I can’t tell you exactly what we’re doing, but we’re investing in our programs, focusing hard on stories and giving our people the support they need.’

Well to start with, if he can’t or won’t say what they are doing, questions have to be asked. Does he know what will be done? Does he know what they are doing? Can he explain it?

“Giving people support” at Nine in the News and Current affairs area would be a big change from the two and a half years of terrorism practiced by Alexander (with Packer’s support) and nodded through by Gyngell. Monstering Michael Pascoe and Peter Meakin out of the Network, Stephen Rice from Sunday, Steve Wood from Today, Paul Fenn and Graham Thurston from News was grubby and poor management.

Especially the employment of Jim Rudder as News and Current Affairs head, when he was originally interviewed by Nine for the position as head of sport, replacing Gary Burns, who was also shafted by the third floor at Nine.

How the change was made that saw Rudder made Meakin’s replacement remains unexplained by all involved, and the singularly most important piece of management decision-making at the Network since Meakin left. That no one now is prepared to own up to the mistake and explain their role in it is not good and a disservice to Rudder, who was an employee, it must be remembered.

Gyngell’s role in Rudder’s 13 month term and his support for his actions remains a sore point with many still at Nine. It’s no wonder people in the News and Current Affairs area at Nine in Sydney are no longer as committed as before to winning.

And, we’ve already seen what Gyngell says is ‘investing’ in the programs. The cheque book approach to helping ACA with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, the Queensland quins and the US tourist who survived a fall in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney (and Seven has reacted with its own’investment’ in Karen Brown, the security shotting guard being the latest example).

So there’s no use in being coy Dave, we can see what you are doing. It’s the oldest method in the TV book to boost or improve the performance of news and current affairs. It’s what Peter Meakin has been doing at Seven, but in a sharper, more focused and more timely manner.

It’s that old proverb about doing unto others what you would do to yourself. But in Teleland, it’s do them first and quickly before they can do you!

Peter Fray

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