It’s not just the worm that’s turned. The entire Nine Network has gone feral in the wake of last night’s leaders debate.

Nine has been busy this morning abusing just about everyone who had anything to do with the decision to cut its feed from the Great Hall in Parliament House and the level of vitriol leaves the politicians for dead.

Nine’s head of news and current affairs, John Westacott, has described the pulling of the feed from the debate as “a blatant act of political censorship”.

He’s attacked the Liberal Party for trying to manage the debate in the first place, reiterating the words of Nine presenter, Ray Martin, about the debate belonging to the people and not the Liberal Party.

However the most extraordinary revelation from Nine this morning is that there was no agreement about the broadcast, either written or verbal. None at all! This contradicts claims by the National Press Club and the Liberal Party director, Brian Loughnane. It makes the statement by Glenn Milne, the vice president of the National Press Club, particularly interesting. Milne told AM this morning that the decision to pull Nine’s feed was justified because the network had broken an agreement.

“Having entered into an arrangement and an agreement with the parties to accept the terms and conditions and constraints that the parties had agreed on, Nine should have complied with them.”

Milne also said “When Nine walked away from it and used the worm it breached an agreement it had with the parties not the National Press Club.”

Perhaps this is why Nine has claimed that “the ABC and the National Press Club conspired to do the bidding of the Liberal Party to present the blandest possible Leaders Debate”.

The National Press Club’s Chief Executive Officer, Maurice Reilly, was the man designated to make comment. He didn’t return Crikey’s call. He was at a hospital in Canberra all morning as rumours flew around the capital that he’d taken ill. His office assured callers that he was fighting fit and that the Club will issue a statement today at 2pm.

The Prime Minister denied his office had any involvement this morning. But what about Liberal Party headquarters? Word from the Party’s Director, Brian Loughnane, is a bit confusing. His spokesman, Jim Bonner, told Crikey: “My understanding is that Channel Nine breached the requirement so you’ll have to talk to them.” When asked whether Loughnane authorized, or agreed to, or was consulted about pulling Nine’s feed, Bonner said: “That I don’t know about … the only thing I got from Brian last night is that Channel Nine breached its agreement. I’ll find out and get back to you.” He didn’t.

However, the Liberal Party must have been consulted because Nine was saying today that Loughnane expressly said not to yank the broadcast.

So who actually pulled the plug?

Nine believes it was the National Press Club, either with or without consultation with the Liberal Party, which was responsible for pulling the feed. In any case, the decision to pull the broadcast sounds more like an act of extreme pettiness on the part of the National Press Club than political censorship. Either way, it’s a very stupid way to behave.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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