Amid all the frothing and renting of garments over the Seven network’s mammoth loss in the so-called C7 case, some important history should be remembered.

This was not just about the Seven network’s Pay TV ambitions; it was also a direct descendant of the bitter Super League war a decade ago which pitted News and PBL against each other, the settlement of the war and its hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

There’s something of a precedent everyone should remember for this sort of case: not the huge expense and time that Seven used to so fruitlessly prosecute its case, but a shorter and just as bitter case involving sporting rights 11 years ago.

That was over the Super League war in Rugby League: the C7 case was partly over coverage of the sport on Free To Air TV and Pay TV and C7 had its genesis in that time 11 years ago.

Seven wasn’t directly involved then: the Nine network (whose owner, PBL was a respondent in the C7 case) was a major protagonist, along with the Australian Rugby League and on the other side, News Ltd.

Optus and Foxtel were also involved: the brawl was in fact all about TV programming and the need Rupert Murdoch saw for Foxtel, then half-owned by News, to have some sort of exclusive programming to drive subscriber traffic, just like BSkyB in Britain had snapped up the top soccer.

A key point in the Super League war saw News Ltd lose a bitterly contested court case before a single judge in the Federal Court. That was Justice Burchett and the most telling phrase from his judgement was that News had acted with “dishonesty” and “duplicity”. (Dishonesty was also mentioned in connection with News by Justice Sackville.)

News lost that 1996 case completely with the ARL (and its supporters Nine/PBL and Optus) winning a clear cut victory; only to have the entire judgement reversed months later by a Full Bench of the Federal Court. One of the trio of judges on the bench was Justice Ronald Sackville. The others were Justices John Lockhart, and John van Doussa.

Justice Sackville presided over the C7 case and the Super League appeal and transcript of the original hearing should have given him an understanding of the passions and bitterness of media warring in Australia.

And yet there are times in his huge judgement on the C7 case when he expresses surprise and wonderment at the bitterness and extent to which media companies and executives will go to argue their case, even if the case was flawed, as Seven’s was in his view.

Given that background it is a bit hard to understand his surprise as the way Seven, Nine, PBL, Foxtel, News and the others fought each other in the Federal Court at a cost of $200 million. These were grown men, billionaires in some cases, who should have known better but were driven more by ego than commonsense.

The Super League war exhibited many similar examples of ego driven madness which should have been curtailed by commonsense. News and its side battled the old guard Rugby League and PBL and Optus and others for a couple of years before the losses got too much (probably a quarter of a billion dollars in the end, the majority incurred by news Ltd). A truce called to settle the disastrous drain of money also played a major part in the background to the C7 case.

As part of the settlement the National Rugby League was set up, half owned by News Ltd. There was a reworking of shareholdings in Foxtel with PBL and News ending up with 25% each as News sold half its holding to the Packers.

Further there was an agreement about shareholdings and equalisation that effectively gave News control over the PBL stake and its disposal (that prevented the Foxtel stake from being sold to CVC when it bought half of PBL Media).

Telstra has always resisted equalisation and Justice Sackville’s comments in his judgement that, “The evidence also shows that News was content to withhold important information from Telstra, in effect its partner in the Foxtel Partnership, and did so over a considerable period of time…” is a good summary of how the Murdoch camp has treated the Telco over the years, with PBL nervously wondering if Telstra and News would gang up and destroy it.

News Ltd and Foxtel executives didn’t make any reference to that comment on Friday, nor did it appear in any News Ltd paper on Saturday.

Amid all the potshots fired at Seven and Kerry Stokes, that was a significant omission, but one we have come to expect from the Murdoch camp.

In 1998, when the dealing was going on to settle the war and PBL got a quarter of Foxtel (for $160 million) PBL was also sold 50 per cent of Fox Sports by News. Fox Sports had the key supply agreement with Foxtel in that it was the sole supplier to Foxtel of sport, which was the major subscription driver and the most watched programming on Pay TV.

News effectively controlled the fate of the PBL stake in Fox Sports, which became the dominant and most profitable company in Pay TV, earnings much more than the shareholders in Foxtel will every earn. Fox Sports (Now Premier Media Group) has been in profit for at least seven years. Foxtel will be in profit this financial year.

Seven owned C7 and Optus had a Pay TV network but that quickly compounded because of the greater programming and better sport on Foxtel. But Foxtel and News had a crippling movie contract with the Hollywood studios.

Seven knew that it needed AFL on C7 (and League for good measure) but it could not get the rights included in the 2001 contract negotiations.

That is supposedly why Seven didn’t exercise its last right of refusal to outbid Nine and Ten for the AFL. It should have and even though that cost around half a billion dollars, Seven would have saved $200 million on the C7 case, and done a lot better with advertisers and not spent from 2001 to 2005 in the ratings wilderness searching for an answer.

And finally, Seven’s potential losses in this case bear no comparison with the losses News Ltd and its mouthpieces/journalists etc have yet to admit to on Super League, nor have they owned up to the amount of money that News and Fox Sports are clipping from rugby league now.

News’ Super League losses were put at $560 million in a story in the Australian Financial Review which looked at what happened to the News Corp accounts when it changed its domicile from Australia to the US.

In a story on Saturday in the Weekend Australian, News Ltd highlighted the fact that Seven could claim a tax deduction on the $200 million potential cost for C7.

And yet no one from News Ltd has reported that that was precisely what News did when it shuffled the Super League loans and turned them into shares back in 2004-05: it was done for tax purposes.

Loans totalling $560 million were converted to shares as a way of capitalising the losses from Super League and burying them forever. News has claimed the losses were over $100 million.

Well, they were, by a factor of five.

All this should be kept in mind when looking at the coverage of the C7 case, which was frankly short on background on Saturday. Not one reporter went back to the Super League wars to examine what had happened there and yet the seeds of the C7 case were sown there.

Likewise, the basis for mistrust between Stokes and News also goes back to when Murdoch bought into Seven and did a programming deal, only to offer the same programs to PBL as part of the Super League settlement.

News Ltd journalists had no incentive to go back to the past. It wouldn’t have been published so sensitive is the story still in the Murdoch Empire. Perhaps the great financial disaster in the Australian media in the past 15 years or so. To raise that would have been career-shortening.

Back in 1996 Justice Burchett’s decision against News was seen as devastating and all encompassing and the subsequent appeal was viewed as forlorn.

Much of the case revolved around Section 45 of the Trade Practices Act, as did the C7 case. Justice Sackville has more than a passing understanding of the case.

Don’t think that Seven and its legal advisers won’t, or haven’t looked at the way a Full Bench of the Federal Court overturned Burchett’s decision in its entirety and wondered… Could it happen twice?

And Seven’s commercial director, Bruce McWilliam has more background in this area than anyone else in the Australian media. He has worked as a senior commercial lawyer and worked for PBL/the Packers and Rupert Murdoch here, in Singapore and in London.

He knows the ground intimately, better than anyone.