A public argument between Melbourne University Press (MUP) and sections
of the ABC spilled over onto ABC local radio in Sydney this morning and exposed a growing rift between
ABC News and Current Affairs (NewsCaf) and the rest of
ABC TV.

The debate was sparked after News Ltd last night failed in a Supreme
Court bid to stop the ABC airing Andrew Denton’s interview with Mark
Latham.
Louise Adler, publisher and CEO of MUP,
claimed on ABC radio in Sydney this morning that the legal battle was
sparked by “internal wrangling within the ABC.” She said she “felt” for
News Ltd, which had been caught in the crossfire, and “in my
opinion there has been a
failure of management at the ABC.”

Adler’s key charge was that Lateline was “unprofessional” in interviewing Mark Latham outside the exclusive agreement he had
with Enough Rope and News Ltd. It has
also emerged that Tony Jones and Mark Latham had been talking for weeks before the final interview that was filmed yesterday.

NewsCaf insiders, meanwhile, are furious that the ABC last night aired
the Denton interview instead of Tony Jones’s “more hard-hitting”
interrogation. “Denton basically panicked and went to Russell Balding,”
one insider said. “He’s not an ABC employee, and it makes no sense that
his light entertainment was given precedence over Tony Jones. What
next? If Denton gets an interview with Guy Sebastian are they going to
cancel the news?”

As the debate raged on radio this morning Peter Charley, the executive
producer of Lateline, also rang into the 702 morning
program. He denied that Lateline had been “unprofessional” and said
it had always been Lateline’s intention that its
interview with Latham would go to air after Enough Rope. “It has
never been our intention to gazump Enough Rope,” he
said. He said the Tony Jones interview, which will air tonight, “takes the issue forward from the Denton
interview.”

NewsCaf sources say their boss John Cameron pushed
noisily last night with the ABC legal advisers and management to
get Lateline to air instead of Denton’s
program. It’s a
further sign of how leaderless the ABC has been left by the resignation and
departure of ABC-TV head, Sandra Levy, 10 days ago.

Two
senior executives, Michael Ward, from News and Sue Lester, from TV, are
understood to be jointly acting in place of Ms Levy while a new head is sought.
Decision making is also understood to have involved MD Russell
Balding. Denton told the 702 breakfast host Julie McCrossin this morning that Mark Latham was “at fault” over the sudden
legal action last night and
News Ltd papers and their editors had been “warring” over the Latham
story.

A week ago, Lateline was watched by around 140,000 or so viewers on
Thursday evening. Last night, without any promotion,
the audience for the Denton interview with Latham was four times that: around 526,000.

Peter Fray

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