There’s an old Sir Peter Abeles
adage that continually comes to mind where the Nine Network is
concerned.
“Pay peanuts and you get monkeys”:
it’s dogged Nine since the disappearance of the old
David Leckie management gang in 2002.

But you can look at that adage in another way: “Pay peanuts and you
are a monkey”. And never was that more true than in the handling of the
now infamous Mark Llewellyn affidavit. Nine tried to suppress it, sued
various other media outlets (on which it depends for publicity for its
programs) and tried to get them to cough up their sources. Crikey and
myself were on the list.

Nine lost in spades: in the NSW
Supreme Court and in the Federal Court, withdrawing its various actions and
paying costs. This need not have happened if the network had been
better advised about handling the exit of Mark Llewellyn.

Now Nine
has punished the Sydney-based law firm Deacons and its partner,
Andrew Stewart, by taking away all the pre-broadcast litigation advice and
returned it to Mark O’Brien at Gilbert and Tobin. In a foolish attempt to cut costs,
the handling of Nine’s legal work was split at the start of this year between
Gilbert and Tobin and Deacons after Andrew Stewart left Nine and became a partner at Deacons.

The selling point was cost, a big
issue inside Nine where the likes of Ian Audsley, the
chief operating officer, and Brent Cubis, the chief
financial officer, take their riding instructions from Park Street and the likes
of Chris Anderson, cost-cutter Pat O’Sullivan and PBL CEO, John
Alexander. They were the stars of the emails
that accompanied the Llewellyn affidavit which featured them moaning about the
number of reporters sent by Nine to cover the Oscars earlier this
year.

When they realised they could cut legal costs (and
probably put one over Gilbert and Tobin), they leapt at
the Deacons move. Unfortunately, the ham-fisted attempts to shut down the Llewellyn
affidavit after it was published by Crikey were
comical and costly for Nine.

Nine ended up with costs of
between $100,000 and $200,000 – not many cost savings there, let alone the damage
to the image of Nine, Eddie McGuire and his offside, Jeff Browne. Deacons and Andrew Stewart were the
instructing solicitors for that week of mayhem, running the various court cases
in and out of the courtrooms at Queens Square in Sydney’s
CBD.

Peter Fray

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