On Sunday it was a done deal …

By yesterday it was all a beat-up …

And today nobody is talking about whether the Nine Network has opened its chequebook for the family of the now infamous “Bali boy”. Except television rivals, who insist the deal has been done and cameras are set to roll once the teenager accused of marijuana possession has been judged.

Nine issued a terse “no comment” to Crikey this morning after repeated requests to clarify recent denials that a deal has been signed. But Channel Seven’s veteran news boss Peter Meakin insists the contract was signed last week.

Meakin told Crikey yesterday Seven was sounded out about a chat with the family for its Sunday Night program but refused to pay a fee given it was a criminal case. “We said we were interested but not using money,” he said.

A Seven source confirms: “That was our decision from the get-go.”

And anyway, Meakin said he couldn’t see the value in an interview before any conviction and one that couldn’t name the minor in question: “I didn’t think there was much appeal in running an interview without disclosing his identity.”

According to a source involved at one point in the negotiations, celebrity agent Grant Vandenberg approached the networks in early October, soon after the 14-year-old was arrested, with a starting price of “at least $100,000”. A joint media deal was suggested, with interviews on television and in a magazine.

The weekend reports from unnamed sources at Nine suggest a $300,000 deal, with an interview to run on 60 Minutes and Nine Entertainment Co title Women’s Day.

Vandenberg, who said yesterday a deal with Nine is yet to be signed, wasn’t returning calls this morning. The former corporate spinner and freelance agent has 2GB hot head Alan Jones and Oscar winner Russell Crowe on his books, and represented former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld during his legal troubles.

Parents of the NSW teenager issued a statement yesterday through the boy’s lawyers “vigorously” denying they have sealed any media deal that would profit from their “son’s misfortune”. The statement said the father is a successful businessman who ”does not need the money that has been suggested”.

One source says a deal may have unravelled after the leak to the media, when the parents realised they may not be able to keep the proceeds due to laws against profiting from crime and that it may jeopardise chances for a light sentence.

“From the Indonesian perspective, they’re no doubt thinking that they have bent over backwards — personal intercession from the Justice Minister, expedited court case, better conditions than most, etc — and, in the light of all of this, to see the boy and his family likely profiting from the crime has/will no doubt tick them off,” they suggested.

“So what might well have happened is that when the shit hit the fan on Sunday and the worst consequences became starkly apparent everyone decided to deny everything. Which, if these suspicions are true, is probably where we are now.”

Another scenario being suggested is Vandenberg struck a deal with Nine through network spinner David Hurley, who is believed to be close to the agent, without telling the family. Hurley told other media yesterday there is “categorically no deal”.

Prosecutors will recommend a sentence for the NSW teenager on Friday. He was found with 3.6 grams of cannabis and is pleading for no charges to be laid.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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