In the wake of damaging revelations about Tim Worner’s extra-curricular liaisons, Seven’s payments to the woman involved, and a share price near record lows, the question is how much longer the CEO of Seven West Media can remain in his position.
After the market closed yesterday, and more than 24 hours after Amber Harrison first sent out her explosive email, Seven West Media issued a statement saying Worner’s conduct, “even though a personal matter”, was “completely unacceptable” and “deeply regrettable”.
But it hit back at what it called Harrison’s “wide-ranging inaccuracies and false statements”, and rejected her belief that an investigation into her credit card usage, commissioned to an external auditor on the day she signed her first settlement with the company, was in any way payback. On the subject of payments to her, the statement said the company “took into account her solicitors’ strong assertions regarding her needs and fragile emotional stability and were designed to enable her to move on with her life”.
Worner, the company said, would “continue as chief executive”.
Seven is no doubt hoping this story — breaking so close to Christmas — will subside quickly.
But the pressure on Worner has only intensified this morning. Industry observers, including at rival television stations, are insisting there’s no way he can last in his position.
For one, Worner’s admission that he had an affair is likely to stick around like a bad smell at Seven, a “family network” with broad viewership across Australia and particularly strong viewership in regional areas. Further allegations, which have just surfaced, could do more damage.
Also of concern is the vast financial cost the affair has put on Seven. The network has spent two years fighting Harrison through legal channels, and it also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements to her. When she took the affair public, the damage got even wider. Seven’s share price fell 7.8% yesterday — whipping nearly $100 million off the company’s market capitalisation.
And finally, there is the initial $100,000 offered to Harrison — which was paid to Harrison after the initial $14,000 of misappropriated expenses came to light. The details around this are unclear — Worner’s own pay package declined by that amount, according to the company’s relevant remuneration report.
Sex scandals have already brought down one seemingly all-powerful media figure this year — namely Roger Ailes at Fox News. Multiple editors at Australian newspapers have also resigned after sexual harassment complaints were filed. If Worner sticks around, viewers and shareholders would be right to question what sort of workplace Seven is willing to abide.