It looks like Nine news veteran Mike Munro might have got out just ahead of another round of purging round of costing cutting in news and current affairs.

Network news and current affairs boss John Westacott has been telling people that he has been ordered (along with PBL CEO Ian Law) to cut $40 million from his area of operations. The axing of Sunday and Nightline saved around $5 million and every other news program at the Nine in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and through NBN are facing significant attacks on costs and staffing.

Every news and current affairs broadcast is now up for review, from the Extra program in Brisbane, to the NBN news broadcast from Newcastle. Costs will be cut by reducing frequency of broadcasts, length of broadcasts and by cutting staff numbers if need be.

Only two of the Sunday staff are staying: the are no jobs for the others at Nine.

Mike Munro’s decision might have been made a few weeks ago, according to comments by him in the Sydney papers, but it was a clever reading of what was going to happen.

Could Munro have been given a heads-up from his old mate Westacott? Munro has remained loyal to Nine despite being white-anted by the John Alexander led PBL media regime back in the end of 2002. He was undermined by a whispering campaign that saw him replaced as ACA host by Ray Martin in the now discredited Alexander campaign to put a note of “seriousness” into Nine’s news and current affairs.

Jana Wendt was also hired by Alexander to host Sunday, without news and current affairs boss, at the time, Peter Meakin, being informed. Alexander then hired Ross Greenwood to replace Michael Pascoe as finance editor of Nine (Meakin was told to fire Pascoe by Alexander). Meakin then walked from Nine and ended up at Seven where he has overseen the relegation of Nine News and A Current Affair to a distant second behind Seven News and Today Tonight.

Nine insiders are not very happy that Ian Law says the decision to axe Sunday and Nightline wasn’t ordered/directed by the 75% owners, CVC.

Indirectly it was. CVC needs to find a lot of money, very quickly and as the CEO, Law is merely responding to the directive from the owner. As CEO he has to find the savings, otherwise he becomes a former CEO. For Law to argue that it wasn’t a CVC decision is hair splitting of the worst possible kind. Its self-serving, especially as there are rumours around Nine that management has a stake in the buyout, just as Seven Network management have in its buyout vehicle.

If he made the decision alone, then CVC can countermand it, can’t it?

Munro will be missed at Nine because at least he knew what he was doing. It is another blow to fragile morale that had been slowly rebuilding as Nine did better than Seven in the ratings and scored some notable wins. But the axing of Sunday and Nightline and news of more cost cuts to come, has dropped staff back into the dead zone.

Even so for Nine and some commentators to claim that Munro’s weekend news bulletins were ratings winners is not quite accurate..

The figures this year are: Saturday nights: Seven News with Chris Bath is averaging 346,000 viewers to 281,000 for Munro’s 6pm News. Sunday night; Nine News (including the One Day International Cricket in February and March and the NRL games Sunday afternoons in Sydney) 435,000, Seven and Ms Bath, 410,000.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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