Given all this debate about Four Corners
surrendering the award that Lords of the Forests collected after the
broadcasting regulators blackmarked Ticky Fullerton’s anti-logging piece for bias, what will happen to
the John Lyons Walkley in 2001 if Nick Whitlam cleans up Channel Nine’s Sunday program in his NRMA-funded defamation action?

Many observers now believe this could happen as Whitlam has strong
advice from four QCs – Stuart Littlemore, Terry Tobin, John Sackar and
Lucy McCallum – all of whom have opined that Lyons’s slanders in that Sunday cover story are as bad
as they have
ever seen.

The Walkley judging panel gave Lyons the gong for “best
broadcast interview” but Whitlam explains the manipulation at the heart of his defamation action halfway through this stinging attack on various critics at the launch of his book, Still Standing, in October 2004:

Lyons created a bogus interview. He substituted
questions. Yes, in two instances, the answers Channel Nine
broadcast to the questions they broadcast were in fact answers to
questions that had not been asked in the interview at all; they were
new questions, substitutions. All Lyons and Channel Nine had were the
answers to the questions Lyons actually asked – so they made do with
them, the answers, not the questions, and further, Lyons swapped
answers to a question that was actually asked. Thus, the answer
broadcast to question A was not the answer I gave to question A, but
that I gave to question B! No matter. It made a “good” story.

In their comments for awarding the Walkley to Lyons, the judges said:
“His interviews are structured and flow well with clear and precise
questioning, all making for excellent television. His work,
particularly on the NRMA, had significant and lasting impact.” Indeed.
What Channel Nine broadcast was a concoction, a fabrication.

Nine insiders were confessing to this manipulation to some Walkley
judges on the night Lyons got his gong and since then we’ve witnessed
Lyons’s extraordinary attack on Paul Keating in The Bulletin,
seen by many as a grossly unfair Packer-driven vendetta, and the
revelations in the Mark Llewellyn affidavit that PBL CEO John Alexander
wanted Lyons to also do a hatchet job on Seven chairman Kerry Stokes.

The Channel Nine bean counters have much to consider in reputational
and financial terms as Whitlam lines up to re-launch his NRMA-funded
defamation action, just as Lyons’s position as executive producer of Sunday is in the spotlight while the program is revamped. Whitlam has already spent
$207,462 in the ACT Supreme Court before discontinuing the action against Nine when
ASIC launched its failed proceedings. He then spent more than $100,000
securing last week’s favourable judgment so with interest the total costs are
already at $400,000, such that even settling would be hugely expensive.

However, in siding with Whitlam on the question of NRMA funding his
case against Nine, Justice Bergin last week made some fairly stiff comments,
including that “the defendant knew or ought to have known that Nine
could, and indeed it was likely it would, manipulate the interview to
suit the story it wished to publish”.

One of the reasons NRMA initially sued Nine was because United Airlines was a sponsor of the second Sunday
program attacking the company. This was an unusual situation because
Anne Keating was both a director of the NRMA and general manager of
United Airlines at the time, although this could have just been a
coincidence.

Given that Paul Keating would love to see John Lyons brought down,
it is somewhat ironic that it could be triggered by the man who is a
bitter enemy of his sister. Oh what a tangled web the NRMA-ALP
imbroglio has been over the past 15 years.

Peter Fray

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