Back in
mid-2002 Ian Johnson was the stand-in head of the Nine Network, acting in the
position after David Leckie had been flicked at the end of 2001. Nine
was then part of a new structure called PBL Media, headed up by John Alexander
(who was also head of ACP magazines), with David Gyngell
as his number two.

Johnson was a PBL stalwart. He was a director of PBL as well as being head of GTV Nine in Melbourne, then the second most
important station after Sydney. He
knew more about TV than Alexander and Gyngell would learn in
a lifetime of reading TV Week.
He was influential in Nine winning the AFL rights from 2002, though it
didn’t win him any brownie points with the big fella. Kerry Packer was
furious the deal involved ceding the finals to Ten but Johnson dodged
the bullet and it was David Leckie who paid the price of inciting
Packer’s ire.

But even back in 2002 Johnson
was growing concerned about what he was being pressured to do by
Alexander. One day
at a boardroom lunch he dropped in to meet and greet and stayed to talk to staff over a bottle of
red. He
confided to several people that he was worried about the impact of the cost cuts and redundancies Alexander
was pressuring him to bring in. Little
did Nine people know that the likes of sports boss Gary Burns, News and Current
Affairs boss Peter Meakin, and even finance editor
Michael Pascoe, were in Alexander’s sights.

Within a month or so Johnson was gone from Nine and from the PBL
board. And after taking some time out he ended up at Seven in charge of
HSV Seven for Leckie. Melbourne is the most important station in the Seven
Network. Sydney might have the schmick Martin Place studios but
Docklands is Seven’s Broadcast Centre .

So when
David Leckie won a battle for control of the network
in 2004, fighting off David Aspinall, he made Johnson the person all Seven station
managers report to. He in turn reports to Leckie
in what is a meeting of equals, like those between Leckie and Seven’s News and Current Affairs chief, Peter Meakin.

And now Johnson is about to become even more important: he will be
the point man for the Seven-Ten AFL partnership next year. With his
long experience in TV, and his time at the Melbourne Football Club,
Johnson is an ideal counterpoint to the heavies at the AFL. Johnson is
the sort of person Nine misses terribly at the moment. They have no one
with any solid TV management or news-making experience.

Peter Fray

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