How’s this for a bit of optimistic headlining at Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd – “Stokes blinks in AFL case” blared the headline on the front page of The Australian today:

Kerry Stokes’s Seven Network yesterday blinked first in its
$1.1 billion pay-TV claim, settling with the Australian Football
League, one of the parties the network accused of being part of a
massive conspiracy against it.

Well, no blinking and
not a breakthrough in the case. It was revealed ten days ago when the
case resumed after a week off to allow some mediation moves to take
place.

Seven said last Monday week that it was willing to talk
to the AFL and the Australian Rugby League and after one unsuccessful
attempt, a second round this week produced a confidential mediated
settlement which undoubtedly will involve Seven making some sort of
costs settlement on the AFL. Hardly blinking, more like a News Ltd
blinkered approach.

The AFL has spent millions on the case
(the range is put at $7 to $10 million) with a proportion of that
allocated but unspent. That will now be returned to the AFL clubs,
clearing the way for Seven, Ten and the AFL to get into more serious
talks. Foxtel is sitting on the sidelines and will go with the winning
side, if the price is right, at this stage.

What was more
damaging to Seven was the recall of Kerry Stokes to the witness box
yesterday after two new documents were discovered involving Singtel,
owners of Optus.

The SMH, which is not associated with
any defendant and therefore not blinkered in its coverage of the C7
case, got the mix right with this headline – “Peace with AFL but Stokes gets a grilling.”

Seven
has made it clear that there will not be any chance of mediation
with the central defendants – News, PBL, Foxtel and Telstra – until the
first two News witnesses have been cross-examined. They are News lawyer
Ian Phillip and finance executive Peter Marcourt.

That is due to
start almost immediately and Seven’s cross-examination of these two
witnesses (and others from News like John Hartigan, the executive
chairman, and Kim Williams of Foxtel) should be seen in the light of
the lengthy and at times bitter examinations of Kerry Stokes, Peter
Gemmell and other Seven witnesses by counsel for News Ltd, PBL and
others.