The desperate eleventh-hour spiking of last-night’s 60 Minutes “suicide cluster” story had an interesting lead-up.
Crikey understands that the controversial segment, which was originally set to air on 2 August, was the subject of a high-level tug of war, pitting BeyondBlue chief Jeff Kennett and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg against Nine chief David Gyngell.
An extraordinary Victorian Supreme Court injunction by the depression-prevention charity was sought at 6.30pm last night, leaving Nine production staff scrambling.
It is understood that on 31 July, when it became clear Nine would proceed with the story, a concerned Kennett contacted PBL Media CEO Ian Law, on the advice of Carr-Gregg, claiming that there was a specific risk of a another Geelong teenager taking their life if the program aired.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
The appeal to Nine came one day after Kennett and Carr-Gregg gave a private speech in Geelong to the school community at the centre of the tragedy. Four Geelong teenagers have committed suicide in a “cluster” linked to social networking site Facebook
Carr-Gregg is believed to have outlined his case directly to Gyngell. After considering Carr-Gregg’s pitch, Gyngell agreed to nix the story by reporter Tara Brown, pending an examination of the new case. Gyngell is believed to be good friends with Kennett.
But it seems Gyngell’s initial concern was soon sated. Last week, Nine started promoting the story on its website again, and was ready to broadcast the segment before last night’s Supreme Court scramble. It is unclear what had transpired in the intervening days to change Gyngell’s mind.
In an affidavit to be sworn at 4pm today, Kennett claims that Gyngell reneged on the agreement to shelve the story indefinitely.
An introduction spruiking the story went to air last night but the running sheet was rejigged — at 8.20pm. Instead of the story, viewers saw 10 minutes of ads and an extended news break. Law is said to not be a happy camper this morning. Nine has issued a statement, but there has been no word from Gyngell.
60 Minutes Executive Producer Hamish Thomson said he believed the segment was a “story that should be told”. 60 Minutes has the support of the families, Thomson said, and it is believed Nine will proceed with the screening this Sunday if the injunction is lifted. Brown is said to have expressed senstitivity in compiling her interviews with the affected families, and the network had consulted psychologists during production.
60 Minutes has encountered controversy over the issue before, having been slapped down by ACMA in 2008 after airing a similar teen suicide story. They were said to have been especially sensitive this time round.
Both Kennett and Carr-Gregg would not comment to Crikey, citing a sitting of the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning, when the injunction will again be debated.