Federal Court in Sydney will today see the start of a grim three weeks or
so for the man they call the “Little Kerry” of the Australian media,
Kerry Stokes.

He’s the owner of 43% of the Seven Network (worth around $800
million) and the driving force behind a legal challenge that has pitted
his TV business, his credibility and his fortune against some of the
biggest names in the Australian media: News Ltd, PBL, Telstra, Foxtel,
the Ten network and the AFL.

Sydney basked in the hedonistic joys of the Swans AFL victory and temperate spring
weather, it was a different story in solicitors offices and barristers chambers.
Many of
the 22 respondents in the C7 case were hard at work refining their arguments
and questions, nailing down last minute points. Led by
News Ltd brief, Noel Hutley SC, they’re determined to
hammer a yawning gap in Stokes’ credibility while he’s in the witness box.

Hutley will lead off questioning,
and is confident he has enough ammunition to hold Stokes’ attention for two
weeks, then it will be the turn of other barristers,
led by Tony Meagher SC for PBL.

Stokes, a very private individual, despite his enormous wealth, the risks of the
case now become very real and apparent. Not only has Seven committed to spend
well over $50 million on its legal costs, the costs of the other 22 parties
could very well match that. If he loses, that will make an enormous dent in the recovering fortunes of
his Seven Network. Stokes has considerable wealth in other businesses,
such as heavy equipment and earthmoving machinery. which is thought to
match or exceed the value of his Seven holdings.

Back in
1991 Kerry Packer put it all on the line when he appeared at a Parliamentary
hearing into the media and proceeded to embellish his reputation with a bravura
performance, batting aside the questions of the politicians and laying out his
own agenda. No such
chance in court 21A for Stokes. The rules of the legal system are more formal, and
the ability to extemporise like Packer did will be
severely constrained.

It will
be all up to “Little Kerry.” It’s a story worthy of TV, Desperate Mogul, perhaps?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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