Channel Ten’s plan to parachute in television legend Peter Meakin to run its news and current affairs division has hit a snag.

Meakin, 71, may be forced to sit on the sidelines for a year and questions persist about the future of current news boss Anthony Flannery. Ten insists he will stay at the network as head of news and current affairs and report to Meakin, whose title would be “executive director of news and current affairs”.

Sources tell Crikey Meakin proclaimed on Friday that Flannery, who took over as head of news and current affairs in January 2012, was finished at the network. Meakin retired as head of news and current affairs at Seven last November, but remained on as a consultant until earlier this month.

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“Peter has been making it known that Anthony Flannery is f-cked and was gone,” according to a TV insider (a claim others in the industry told Crikey independently). A Channel Seven insider also said Meakin had bagged Ten’s current affairs show The Project: “He railed against it earlier this year — he said it was on the wane, it’s over, it’s crap.” The Project, which was struggling earlier this year, has had a lift in recent months and its ratings are up 4% on last year.

Meakin denied both claims this morning, saying they were “nonsense” and “mischief-making” from commercial rivals. When asked about Flannery’s future yesterday, Meakin told Crikey: “Hamish [McLennan, Ten’s CEO] has talked to Anthony. You’d be better to ask him what he wants to do. I’ve made no demands he be shown the door.”

Meakin was unable to confirm whether his non-compete clause with Seven is for six months as reported earlier this week or a year as reported in The Australian Financial Review today. Ten remains adamant it is six months or less.

According to one Ten news insider, the confusion about when Meakin will start is “another f-ck up — the mood here yesterday was here we go again”. Seven went to court in 2011 to ensure its ex-sales chief James Warburton had to take a year’s gardening leave before joining Ten as CEO, and is expected to play hardball with Meakin.

“I don’t know why you would sign a contract with a restraint clause and expect it to be waived,” a Seven source said.

According to Channel Ten sources, Flannery only leaned about Meakin’s appointment last Friday — the day it was announced.

“He didn’t know they were talking to Meakin or that any of this was happening,” a Ten insider said. “It was a bolt out of the blue for the news department and the head of news,” said another. The latter insider claimed Meakin’s appointment “doesn’t seem to be a vote of confidence in Flannery”. Flannery did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment.

Flannery, who ran the news division at New Zealand station TVNZ before joining Ten, was a producer at Nine when Meakin was head of news and current affairs there. Meakin told the New Zealand Herald in late 2008:

“When I knew him he was basically a producer in the newsroom. He had a reputation as a very competent producer. I can’t say when I was there — and maybe this was my mistake rather than his failing — but I didn’t spot him as a potential executive producer or anything. So maybe I’m losing my touch. He was reliable, stable but not the sort of guy you’d say ‘jeez, this guy’s a whiz kid, amazing’. He needed to be appreciated and maybe I didn’t appreciate his talents enough.”

One Ten insider described Flannery as a “pleasant guy” who had done well after being handed a “shit sandwich” at the cash-strapped network: “It’s amazing they’ve been able to get anything to air with so few resources.” In general though, newsroom staff are excited about CEO McLennan’s renewed focus on news — which includes hiring Meakin and former Sunrise guru Adam Boland to launch new breakfast and morning shows.

A Channel Nine source told Crikey yesterday the network had held talks with Meakin about re-joining Nine, but they broke down because Meakin wanted a full-time job.

“Our thought was that if he’s at a loose end … put him in an eminence grise role pointing people in the right direction. It was floated and he said it would have to be full-time. It was made clear from the conversation that there was no full-time gig going at Nine. It didn’t go past one conversation,” they said.

According to the Nine source, Ten “went on an auction and there was only one bidder”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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