I don’t know exactly why
Nine has tumbled so quickly. But I will make this observation. When I
was hired by Nine, the critical conversation took place in a pub with
Nine’s Melbourne news chief John Sorell.

“What are they paying you at Seven?” I told him. “You don’t want more than that, do you?” “No.” “Start in January?” “Sure.”

before I quit Seven, though, I got nervous. I had seen no contract from
Nine. I rang Sorell’s chief of staff. “If the Admiral told you you’re
hired,” he growled, “you’re hired.”

I wonder what a Nine
handshake is worth these days. Who would quit their job on the strength
of one? It seems a lost age at a time when Nine executives are doing
their best to demonstrate that not even a signed contract has the
remotest value.

Nine, the long-time titan of news, has a
credibility problem. Like a political party that cannot run itself and
therefore cannot be trusted to run the country, Nine’s managers are not
believed internally and the public – increasingly – picks up the vibe,
shakes its head and turns away.

It was not always so. Peter
Meakin remains the most potent TV executive in the country – and that
includes CEOs – because he is ruthless with the truth. People can fight
it, argue with it, curse him, but know also, that it is the truth. Like
the biblical prophets he sometimes, wryly, likes to quote, Meakin
stands in the fire and does not get burned.

But Meakin is also
sensitive to human pride. Mark Llewellyn, so it is said, was
considering accepting Eddie McGuire’s ultimatum to drop pay and take a
lesser role. It is in a man’s pride to prove to himself that he can
take a setback. But the inept arrogance of clearing his office without
even telling him was criminal wastage on Nine’s part and the executive
responsible should be taken out the back and shot. To put it into
language that Willoughby should understand – feed a man a sh-t
sandwich, but don’t ask him to wash the dishes.

Or as the
classicists in Park Street might prefer it, more elegantly, from Gore
Vidal: “never offend a man in a small way.” Meakin knows that, but of
course he is no longer with Nine.

Many current and former Nine
employees still feel the deepest loyalty to the network. Every
Collingwood fan knows how painful it is to see their side underperform.
There are people of undoubted intelligence running Nine but too many
thoughtless penalties have been conceded. Too many executives are seen
by their own staff – rightly or wrongly – as dishonest. So: truth – but
also some insight into human nature. Because in a business that runs on
people, managers “without a compassion gene” are a seven-figure

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey