Stephen Healy, former Tennis Australia director.

There was one place you wouldn’t read about legal action launched on Monday against two former Tennis Australia directors. While the story was covered by all the major news websites (including Nine’s news website) and other outlets yesterday, Nine’s Wide World of Sports (WWOS) steered well clear of the yarn.

The coverage (mostly on business pages) followed corporate regulator the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issuing civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court against then-Tennis Australia vice president Harold Mitchell and former president Stephen Healy relating to their time at Tennis Australia. In 2013, the board awarded domestic TV broadcast rights for the Australian Open to Seven Network for five years without a tender process, ASIC alleges.

That five-year deal is now up, and WWOS and Tennis Australia announced with glee earlier this year that Nine would be the new rights holder for the Australian Open in a $60 million deal.

It was this very deal that WWOS editor Ben Glover cited in his email to staff yesterday asking them to stay away from the story:

Please don’t touch the story about two former Tennis Australia directors getting sued. There’s a wire doing the rounds today, but given we have a partnership with TA and the law suit pertains to a tender process (or lack thereof) for TV rights, we should give it a wide berth.

Instead, the site’s tennis coverage was limited to match reports and a profile of Roger Federer

Nine digital content director Helen McCabe told Crikey in a statement that there was no directive to Nine staff not to cover the deal. “This is a legitimate news story and there was no management directive not to cover the story,” she said. “We will never shy away from a story that’s there to be told.”

Under the deal, Nine has the domestic broadcast rights for five years for the Australian Open, Australian Open Series, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and other events. It also has streaming, mobile digital and social platform rights.

Nine last year also lost the broadcast rights to the cricket after 40 years.

Yesterday Fairfax Media shareholders voted in favour of a merger with Nine Entertainment, which has said it will sign Fairfax’s charter of editorial independence, which stops proprietors from interfering in editorial matters. It’s an issue the the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has been particularly concerned about during takeover discussions. MEAA wants a new charter to be drafted and signed by the new company to ensure continued editorial independence in the new company.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey