Nine Network Sydney news director, max Uechtritz resigned from the ABC about a year ago and joined Nine in may of 2004. He brought his upfront style to Nine, but this hasn’t translated into rating points or eyeballs watching his news.

Changing newsreaders in January didn’t help with Jim Waley outed and Mark Ferguson the new 6 pm host. Waley says he’s looking forward to the court action over his dismissal.

But this week, Sunday, Max got a break.Tthe combined impact of the Sea King tragedy in Indonesia and the death of the Pope early on Sunday morning gave him a window of opportunity. He took it.

In reality it wasn’t down to Max It was just viewers who flocked to Nine (as the usually do when there are big news stories. The tsunami was the best example this year)to look at the Network’s reports from 8 am onwards, culminating in a huge 1.9 million or more people who tuned in at 6 pm for the Sunday evening National Nine news.

Max was very happy about his and Nine’s performance and the following report appeared in the Sydney Morning herald’s Spike column on Monday, the next day.

“Nothing like a good backslap to keep the troops happy, as the Nine Network’s news director, Max Uechtritz, knows only too well since leaving the ABC for the Packer empire. However, what are we to make of an internal email (leaked to Spike) he sent the troops yesterday? In it he praises the work of Nine’s reporters in covering the Pope dying and the death of nine Australian servicemen and women at the weekend, but takes a big swipe at his former employer.

“As for the ABC, I was ashamed for my old outfit. When they finally went to air with Insiders at 0900 they had an ordinary cross to Raffie Epstein in Rome, then threw to an obit with the wrong reporter’s name. They soon went to local politics. From 5.30 to 9 o’clock I kept switching over to see if the national broadcaster was finally servicing its taxpayers. Nyet, nein, non. A disgrace, frankly. We can be thankful, I guess, about Sandra Levy’s unwillingness to break schedule for anything these days.”

And on Tuesday this rather strange item from the Spike column that day

“Spike reported yesterday that Channel Nine’s news director, Max Uechtritz, had sent his troops a backslapping memo praising the news team’s coverage of world events on Sunday morning. In the note Uechtritz ridiculed the way his former employer, the ABC, handled its coverage. In fact, the message that fell into our hands was not a widely circulated herogram, but part of a private exchange between Uechtritz and a staffer at Nine. Apparently Uechtritz refrains from attacking other news organisations in messages designed for general release. Such comments have a nasty tendency to rebound. He delivered his back pats to the troops via individual phone calls.”

Oops, who fingered themselves as the source of the Monday report?

But after the bodies of the nine dead from the Sea King tragedy were returned on Tuesday afternoon,Nine and Seven both went live with coverage, while the ABC stayed with Playschool, leading to this item in Spike on Wednesday.(Who’s Max’s agent?)

“Comments by the Channel Nine news director, Max Uechtritz (Spike, Monday) about his former employer the ABC not breaking schedule to cover world events were more than justified yesterday. The Nine and Seven networks crossed live to Sydney Airport to cover the sombre return of nine Australian servicemen and women who died in Indonesia. The national broadcaster continued to show Playschool, while Channel Ten ran Judge Judy.”

Well on the face of it a fair comment. But hardened ABC souls re-call the start of the second Iraq invasion by the US and its mates in late March 2003. March 21, from rough memory.

These unkind souls have reminded me that max, as head of ABC news and Current Affairs, couldn’t get the coverage to air on the ABC fast enough.

The first shots and the famous President Bush announcement were sort of missed by the ABC. Why, well it seems the head of ABC TV, Sandra Levy, was resistant to anyone breaking into her schedule.

Max had the same problem that his then deputy and present head of NewsCaf at the ABC, John Cameron, has had with Ms Levy on a number of occasions. One was the announcement of the 2004 election campaign last August and this week’s live broadcasting of the arrival of the Sea King dead from Indonesia.

And, unkind souls point out that the systems and procedures for ABC NewsCaf are still substantially those Max put in place.

So while laughing at his ‘mate’ John Cameron(who would not talk to ABC radio in Sydney Wednesday morning about the issue) through the Spike column, Max is really telling everyone that the systems he had in place were not good enough to ensure this happened. After all, he did miss the start of the US invasion in Iraq in March 2003!

Could it be that under Max the ABC NewsCaf department lost ground inside the ABC, which Mr Cameron is paying for now?

Late on Wednesday, the ABC attempted to reclaim the high moral ground with a statement.

In it the ABC’s Director of News and Current Affairs, John Cameron said the ABC had instead provided immediate radio coverage during its prime-time programs.

He said the ABC had also carried “by far the best” prime-time coverage of the helicopter crash in weekend TV news bulletins.

“The decision was made not to mount a special telecast during the afternoon, but to cover it fully in the main TV news bulletins, when the vast majority of viewers are tuning in to see the main news of the day,” Mr Cameron said.

“In an ideal world, from a news and current affairs sense, the ABC might have a 24 hour news channel, where we would not need to interrupt scheduled programs.”

Well, what will Sandra Levy say, she’s the boss!

Peter Fray

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