An audacious attempt by the Nine Network to close its Parliament House bureau in Canberra and merge it with the Seven Network’s operation has failed.

A paragraph in Thursday’s Melbourne Age hinted that the future of the Nine bureau in Canberra, led by Laurie Oakes, might be up in the air. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph (where Oakes writes a weekly column) also knew of the story, but didn’t publish anything.

Sky News was also involved in the three-way plot, with suggestions it would run of the day to day operations for a combined multi-network Canberra newsroom.

The plan only failed after Nine doyen Oakes realised what was going on.

It seems Nine boss, David Gyngell approached rival Seven either in late September or earlier this month with a surprising proposal: sack everyone in both Network bureaus except Oakes and Seven’s Mark Riley, then rehire some support and admin staff. Both networks would share in a cost saving estimated at $2 million a year.

The combined bureau would be managed by Sky News, whose chief political reporter, David Speers, would do much of the day to day reporting.

The networks are sweating on every cost centre for more savings and the offer was alluring for Seven. But I’m told that Seven rejected the approach, presumably because it was intensely suspicious of Nine and Gyngell.

Seven also has the news lead and wants to maintain that: covering Canberra independently would help the network maintain its own approach to news over Nine, Ten and the ABC.

Seven doesn’t run after every news interview or story from Canberra. Mark Riley, a former Fairfax gallery reporter, has turned into an effective, chatty reporter and commentator, with an eye for irony and detail that has allowed him to cover Federal politics in a distinctive way that’s a point of difference to the Oakes heavy hitting, interview approach.

It seems Nine’s Canberra staff didn’t know of the plan (which has echoes of the changes at Fairfax when it merged the SMH and Age bureaus in Parliament House) until this week.

Oakes, it seems, wasn’t too pleased and told Gyngell and other Nine bosses.

Now the plan is being spun as “just an idea” with bean counters being blamed. Nine is busy playing down Gyngell’s role in the idea. But the plan was very serious and very real and reached the top levels of Seven.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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