Princess Mary of Denmark could emerge as a key player in the tawdry Bruce Guthrie verses News Limited saga, with the Victorian Supreme Court hearing new details of an alleged series of editorial spats between the sacked Herald Sun editor and his then boss, Herald and Weekly Times chief Peter Blunden.

The second morning of hearings was spent dredging over the who-said-what-to-who-when saga in order to establish whether Blunden and Guthrie were really at war or just faking it. In the process, the world gets an insight into the editorial processes of the Herald Sun.

News maintains there were festering tensions between Blunden, while Guthrie’s people believe a mysterious “third party”, possibly executing the wishes of an even more shadowy “fourth party”, intervened.

Will Houghton SC, for News, spent 90 minutes cross-examining Guthrie over minor editorial calls taken in the months before he was axed, the most notable of which surrounded the coverage on August 30, 2008 allocated to the previous night’s Alannah and Madeleine Foundation dinner, attended by the Princess, husband Frederick and the prime minister.

Blunden, according to Houghton, wanted something a bit more prominent than the eventual page 18 placement.

“I have news editors who are able to make those decisions,” Guthrie told the court, revealing that the front page story and back page leads are normally decided at 3:30pm, well before the dinner in question.

Other alleged controversies arose around whether Guthrie had allocated sufficient space to a preview of an upcoming Geelong versus Western Bulldogs game on September 19, and a decision to move the Confidential column to the ‘Extra’ lift-out.

That came out on the heels, according to Houghton, of an alleged dispute around the amount of space allocated to promotions of the children’s video game Spore.

And then there was this alleged exchange, in August, over promotions for a giveaway of National Geographic DVDs, apparently a key driver of the Herald Sun‘s circulation.

Blunden: “You’re clearly not very hungry to sell newspapers.”

Guthrie: “That’s a bit offensive.”

Blunden: “You’re not telling the readers about it.”

Guthrie: “It was agreed to by marketing!”

Another email exchange between the duo debated senior editorial appointments in August, while Blunden was overseas at the Olympics. Blunden was surprised “to hear about the new executive editor at the same time as everyone else”.

Replied Guthrie: “Settle down mate, I haven’t got a clue where you are. Where are you?”

The court was also regaled with the now famous termination conversations with News CEO John Hartigan (“you’re going to have to eat a sh-t sandwich”) and Blunden (“I’m sick to my stomach over this”), with extra detail over Hartigan’s personal intervention at 11:45am in the newsroom.

Guthrie: “Is there a problem?”

Hartigan: “Yes, we’re going to have to make a change.”

Guthrie: “To what?”

Hartigan: “To editor-in-chief.”

And then, after a to-and-fro over whether Guthrie and Blunden were friends or fiends, this:

Guthrie: “I thought we were getting on?”

Hartigan: “That’s not what I’ve been led to believe.”

Later, Blunden called Guthrie in his office:

Guthrie: “What’s happening now?”

Blunden: “We’re at war.”

Guthrie: “What’s it all about?”

Blunden: “It’s not just me driving this, there are others involved.”

Houghton also recounted a series of events that Hartigan attended with Guthrie, in which Guthrie may have presumably been able to raise any problems over Blunden. Asked why he didn’t, Guthrie told the court:

“They were large functions and it was inappropriate — the fact that I didn’t indicates there were no difficulties.”

Guthrie’s successor Simon Pristel saw fit to plaster the story over the Herald Sun‘s pages today, with veteran court reporter Norrie Ross opining over 800 words and a photo when the yarn could have easily been relegated to the briefs section.

Peter Fray

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