The Packers have banned Crikey but that is certainly not the end of the matter as the man who has so annoyed the PBL empire explains…

So, I’ve been outed by the Strewth column in The Australian. Cor Blimey, wonders never cease!

Fancy that, Kerry Packer’s Godson, a man worth millions, earning more than a million dollars a year, running a TV Network with annual profits of more than $280 million, worried, so worried by an insignificant flea like me that he causes Crikey to be banned, and then outs me!

“Disgruntled” was the word used by Strewth, and by Nine and its spinners. There are hardly any ‘gruntled’ people at Nine these days.

The impression is also left that I “left” Channel Nine this year. Can’t David Gyngell and the spinners bring themselves to say the word ‘sacked’, or more politely retrenched. With 11 months on a two year contract left. Paid out, as it happens.

Hasn’t Mr Gyngell got better things to do, like run a TV network that’s still the country’s best rating TV business, even though it’s looking a bit tatty and toothy in places?

What’s he doing worrying about some one like me who he stood by and watched be retrenched by the late and unlamented Jim Rudder on January 19 this year after working at Nine for more than 16 years.

And the payment of my termination money stuffed up for a month by the Nine, or rather the then centralised pay office at PBL, another project Gyngell allowed to happen because Park Street insisted on it.

It took a number of emails to PBL people to get the money Nine promised to pay me, paid a month later. Why the delay? Who knows? No one would answer calls or emails at the Pay Office in Park Street. It seems in the end the new pay system called Chris, could not make electronic transfers of money with any reliability. Just as the hundreds of employees at Nine and ACP whose salaries and other payments have gone missing this year.

Strewth, that’s a good yarn ignored by mainstream media, but reported on Crikey! This was a situation Gyngell was finally forced to tackle after becoming the full time CEO of Nine, reversing the centralised Pay Office back to Nine and staffing it with people who knew what was going on.

Much of this reported on Crikey by other contributors. A good read, and hardly the stuff though the country’s biggest media company wants in the open. Signs of administrative incompetence.

But to report any of that is to be called disgruntled by Gyngell and his heavy mob at Nine. Fancy that, a high flyer like him worried by something like Crikey.

(I even met his Dad and worked under him. That’s Bruce the Legend Gyngell!)

The business unit idea came from Rudder and the still employed Ross Greenwood, a former head of the business unit. Greenwood himself was sidelined twice in the past couple of months, once when former Sydney News EP, Graham Thurston was named head of the business unit, and last week when the business unit became an unknown organisation at Nine, never to be mentioned again in polite company.

That’s the business unit that was the idea of Greenwood and Rudder and their mentor, John Alexander, the now CEO of PBL, but who had Ross Greenwood waiting in the wings when he told Peter Meakin to sack Michael Pascoe as Nine’s Finance Editor in early 2003. Alexander was still the boss of Nine and PBL Media when the business unit was dreamed up by Ross Greenwood.

All the confusion for Business Sunday’s viewers from the change of format and style, several times this year, change of people and the strange and vague management methods of Greenwood, Rudder and others. All the emotional pain and poor leadership for people at the Business Unit and elsewhere in Nine.

Rudderless at Willoughby as some in-house whit described it early this year. Jim Rudder, another Gyngell-Alexander appointment. With Gyngell overseeing it all, just as he oversaw the re-incorporation of Business Sunday back into the Sunday unit last week, without an apology or a nod to past errors.

Yes, he is Kerry Packer’s Godson, it must mean not having to apologise.

So why ban Crikey and out me? Well, last week it was because too many people at Nine were accessing and reading Crikey at work (and the same reason was given across the Bridge at Park and Castlereagh Streets in the City). Crikey was described as a gossip site by a Nine spokesman, who we all know.

Now it’s because I was writing nasty stuff about Nine. And this from a man, the official spokesman said, who didn’t read Crikey.

Now run that past me again. How could he know what was being written about Nine if he didn’t read it Crikey? Did someone tell him what was in Crikey? Or did someone tell him to ban Crikey? Or can the streaker’s defence be invoked? That it was a good idea at the time (to ban Crikey).

Sydney TV writers say the ban is very much in the current Nine mould of aggressive response to criticism, hectoring phone calls made to writers who say anything critical. “They are such poor losers,” one said at yesterday’s Ten launch.

That insecurity pervades the whole company, with that complete self-confidence of Sam Chisholm and David Leckie now replaced with a ‘yes sir, how high sir’ culture that starts on the second floor of 54 Park Street.

As a former Nine person it still grates a little to say this but Ten is now making the running in Television in this country. It is the pacemaker with a focused business strategy and clever marketing. And better profit margins than Nine.

And that’s why I have been writing about TV because I combine some understanding of television and business, with my background at Nine at Business Sunday and before that at The Australian Financial Review.

Commercial TV is a $4 billion a year industry and up until this year there was little sign of anyone who showed any understanding of the programming and business sides of this industry. No one in the print or electronic media.

With Crikey, that has now changed.

With profits of $700 million a year and rising, this is an important industry that has thrived in secrecy, with no one really subjecting it to regular scrutiny, until now on Crikey. Perhaps it’s that scrutiny that has upset David Gyngell the spinners at Nine and Park Street.

It’s an attitude in which he is alone. Rivals Seven and Ten also let Crikey know when errors have been made, but they co-operate and cop it on the chin. In a mature, adult fashion, without resorting to childish bans.

At the Ten Network 2005 schedule launch before the Australian Idol final at the Opera House last night I was struck by the Nine-like confidence of Ten TV boss, John McAlpine and programmer, David Mott. Confidence in the product, the people and the results they know they will deliver.

Certainty of purpose, a hallmark of Nine under Sam Chisholm and David Leckie (in most years). But not latterly at Nine under the Alexander/Gyngell leadership team.

But Ten doesn’t have the other well-known Nine trait, overweening arrogance. And yet, under Kerry Packer’s Godson, Nine has plenty to be happy about this year, and worried about in 2005.

It has been eating up the enormous capital built up in the Chisholm-Leckie years with little replenishment over the past two years. Expect a flurry of new ideas from Nine, but it will still rely on a lot of the older ideas. Some, like Friends, have vanished. Will CelebrityDetox, David Gyngell’s first big new idea, be the replacement?

Joey isn’t. Ten referred to one US series that they are buying as the number one program on NBC this year (Medical Investigation). Nine would have desperately loved to have heard Joey, the spin-off from Friends, described thus.

No chance! Joey is a very moderate performer, much like the management of Nine. And of course, what about the two informal offers of my job back at Nine conveyed to me from Gyngell via an intermediary this year after Terry Television started writing.

David Gyngell has known of the Terry Television identity for months, and yet he did nothing. Why? Sorry, he didn’t read Crikey. Someone must have told him.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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