Perhaps the most worrying section of the Mark Llewellyn affidavit was his claim that PBL CEO, John Alexander tried to pressure him to do a story to discredit the owner of the Seven Network, Kerry Stokes.

Crikey now understands that there was a second prong to the attack on Stokes: an unpublished cover story on the Seven proprietor that was prepared by two journalists on The Bulletin magazine. It is so far unpublished by the duo, Nick Tabakoff and Alan Deans, who were reportedly working on it from early this year.

The Bulletin story was apparently cover story length and trawled over Stokes’s life, interviewing his wife from his first marriage that ended in 1968.

The story is thought to have been readied for publication in April, but it would seem that The Monthly magazine beat The Bulletin to the punch by publishing a medium sized profile of Stokes in its April edition, written by novelist John Birmingham.

In the affidavit, Llewellyn claims Alexander raised a Today Tonight story about PBL’s executive chairman, James Packer, and asked: “What are you going to do about it?” When Llewellyn suggested a profile on James Packer, he says Mr Alexander replied: “That Today Tonight story was a direct attack on PBL interests and we should respond in kind with an attack on Stokes … Nine has failed to go on the front foot previously with Seven and I am sick of that.” Llewellyn says he responded by saying he would investigate “if you or others have evidence of illegal or unethical conduct by Kerry Stokes … But in the absence of any such evidence I do not want to run such a story and I do not believe it is journalistically appropriate to do so.”

Alexander allegedly replied: “The Today Tonight piece wasn’t journalism. What about a lot of stories on [Nine’s rival program] A Current Affair – they’re not journalism.” When Mr Alexander kept demanding action, Mr Llewellyn had insisted: “My view, John, in short, is that stories must be based on ‘ethical journalistic principles’.” And Alexander suggested plenty of Nine journalists could do the story on Mr Stokes, Sunday‘s executive producer, John Lyons, among them.

So who commissioned or suggested the Stokes story to The Bulletin? It’s not that Stokes isn’t an interesting profile: he has a public figure, witness his determined pushing of the C7 case involving the company suing a raft of other companies, including PBL, News Ltd, Telstra and Foxtel. Seven has spent more than $80 million so far on the case.

Did the story idea come from John Alexander speaking to Gary Linnell and when was this done? And were Llewellyn’s days at Nine numbered as a result of his refusing to buckle to the claimed pressure from Alexander?

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey