60 Minutes case a PR exercise: expert

A Nine Network review of a bungled 60 Minutes child custody story risks becoming a public relations exercise rather than a rigorous examination of its processes, a media expert says.


Nine has launched an internal review of the current affairs show’s coverage of Australian mum Sally Faulkner’s efforts to return her two young children into her custody after four of its staff spent two weeks in a Lebanese jail on kidnapping charges.

The review will be conducted by former 60 Minutes executive producer Gerald Stone, Nine executive David Hurley and the broadcaster’s in-house general counsel Rachel Launders.

“At no stage did anyone from Nine or 60 Minutes intend to act in any way that made them susceptible to charges that they breached the law or to become part of the story that is Sally’s story,” Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said in a leaked statement to staff on Thursday.

The review will “ascertain what went wrong and why our systems, designed to protect staff, failed to do so in this case,” he said.

But former ABC and Seven news boss Peter Manning is not confident the review will be independent.

“It’ll be a public relations makeover,” Professor Manning, now at the University of Technology, Sydney, told AAP on Friday.

“What’s needed here is an industry-wide look at what happened.”


Prof Manning said Ms Faulkner had lost access to her two children as a result of Channel Nine’s actions.

He stopped short of recommending heads roll, but said it was important there was a very high level of accountability.

“You could guess quickly at the beginning of that whole process that this would go badly wrong,” Prof Manning said.

“Why would any executive in Channel Nine put their reporters, producers, cameramen and sound recordists lives and bodies at risk?”

60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment returned to Australia from Beirut on Thursday night after kidnapping charges against them were dropped.

Journalism professor Chris Nash from Monash University believes executives at Nine would lose their jobs and the saga may spell the end of 60 Minutes.

He likened the situation to the News of the World phone hacking scandal where the UK masthead was shut down in 2011.

“This is actually a News of the World moment where the broader profession of journalism has been brought into disrepute quite seriously,” Prof Nash told AAP.

“It’ll be very interesting to hear from the staff what freedom they felt to decline the job.”

Both experts urged Australian news organisations to end chequebook journalism.

But Prof Manning said the inclusion of Mr Stone on the inquiry panel would hurt any chances of a shift away from the practice.

“He’s the man who invented chequebook journalism for 60 Minutes way back when it began,” he said.

“I just can’t imagine he’ll discover that everything he stood for was wrong.”