For the past five years, the Nine Network has been fearful of criticism, fearful of risk and prone to make unscripted, illogical attacks on its critics.

But just as staff were girding themselves for a counter-assault on Gerald Stone’s book, Who Killed Channel 9?, the network heavies ordered silence. No comment at all on the book and its controversial claims.

That’s another example of the siege-like mentality that has developed at the network since John Alexander asserted his authority in 2001 in the wake of David Leckie’s sacking.

But the book has legs in one area: claims that Sunday EP John Lyons selectively edited a controversial interview with former NRMA President Nick Whitlam, which generated significant legal fees and damages to Whitlam and a Walkley award for Lyons.

Lyons lurched into comment in The Australian on Friday, along with a surprise supporter: Four Corners reporter, Chris Masters. “Investigative journalist Chris Masters examined the tapes at Lyons’s request and last night told The Australian he had not seen problems with how the story was edited.”

But why has Masters became involved in a fight involving Stone, Lyons and Nine? It had nothing to do with Masters, it’s not a story he has reported on at Four Corners, so why become involved?

Certainly there’s nothing in it for an outsider like Masters, except suspicion about why he has allied himself with Lyons.

That was a point picked up by the very first Sunday executive producer, Allan Hogan, in a letter to The Australian today:

Chris Masters does himself no favours by defending John Lyons against the criticism levelled at him in Gerald Stone’s book Who Killed Channel Nine? (”Kerry Packer ‘feared for Nine under James, Alexander’,” 29/6). Stone alleges that Lyons behaved unethically in the Sunday interview with Nick Whitlam that won him a Walkley award.

Any reasonable person who examines the full transcript of Lyons’s interview with Mr Whitlam and compares it with what went to air, would have to agree with Stone’s description of it as unfair reporting. By unethically editing Mr Whitlam’s answers, Lyons falsely represented Mr Whitlam as a liar. It’s informative that when Lyons repeated the accusations on radio, a Supreme Court jury found them defamatory and the radio station apologised.

Perhaps the Walkley board might reconsider whether Lyons was an appropriate recipient of the 2001 award for broadcast interviewing.

Allan Hogan
Founding executive producer of Channel Nine’s Sunday program
Lane Cove, NSW

And that’s a letter that separates the “old Nine” from the “new Nine”.

The Australian continued the story today with this report:

The boss of James Packer’s media empire intervened to settle a costly defamation action that saved the reputation of a key protégé on Nine’s Sunday program, claims the author of a book on the Nine Network’s decline.

Former network heavyweight Gerald Stone said last night he understood PBL chief executive John Alexander was responsible in February for a substantial payout to former NRMA president Nicholas Whitlam.

Stone said Mr Alexander acted after Mr Whitlam sued over a March 2001 interview conducted by then Sunday reporter John Lyons…

… Stone went further last night, saying he had new information received too late for publication that Nine had also made a big settlement with Mr Whitlam in February that was kept from public view.

I believe it was substantial and settled in a speedy amount of time. A premium (of the payout) for the settlement was that Whitlam not request an apology,” he said.

My understanding is that John Alexander was personally responsible for the settlement … it is another example of JA intervening at a cost to Nine.

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