There’s a whole lot of finger pointing over the decision to suppress Nine Network’s series, Underbelly, in Victoria last night. Everyone’s wondering: how was this not foreseen?

In particular, the legal industry in Sydney and Melbourne is full of chat about “poor decisions” and “poor advice” given in this matter, the target of their talk being high profile Sydney solicitor, Mark O’Brien, of firm Johnson Winter Slattery.

But from what I understand, the murmurings about O’Brien are unfair and without foundation. I have been told that he was only brought onto the case last week, after the *&%# hit the fan.

Nine sources say the focus of potential legal problems was always on Mokbel, but no-one — from the producers to Nine — had checked to see if there were any other outstanding legal matters. All looked ok, until the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions raised the matter of a clash between Underbelly and a forthcoming trial.

That’s when O’Brien was apparently formally handed the case to argue against any attempt for a suppression order. Nine and its lawyers late yesterday lodged an appeal and a request for an expedited hearing of the appeal against the suppression order by Justice Betty King of the Victorian Supreme Court.

The program rated well, averaging 1.326 million for the first episode and 1.324 million for the second episode across the country, except for Melbourne where the repeated movie, Shawshank Redemption, averaged 271,000 viewers instead of the 800,000 plus the network was expecting for Underbelly. It was stuffed full of ads and Nine made money on the night, yet not as much as it would have wanted to.

The ban has prompted a blame game from the various parties.

From what I have been told, the fingers should be pointing at Film Victoria, Screentime, the producers and the Nine Network. I understand there was no legal due diligence done on the series. Yes it was legalled by Screentime — and Film Victoria also had advice. But no-one wondered about any trials/legal action that may have been outstanding, apart from that involving Tony Mokbel.

Mokbel was always the focus of legal advice and it seems to have centred on what would happen legally if he was suddenly extradited during the series going to air.

Questions involving two protected witnesses and the forthcoming trial in question were not raised until late last week, after Crikey had revealed there were legal problems. The Kooka Brothers had suggested the potential problems a month ago, but no-one took any notice.

Then last week Crikey revealed the arguing between Screentime and Nine (both of whom have not returned calls from last week).

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW