’60 Minutes’ producer sacked as Nine releases report into Sally Faulkner story

Nine Entertainment Co (NEC) has released the key findings of an in-house review into the circumstances surrounding the 60 Minutes story about Australian woman Sally Faulkner which resulted in the 60 Minutes crew being arrested in Beirut.

The review (which NEC calls ‘independent’) was conducted by the founder and former producer of 60 Minutes, Gerald Stone, former producer and senior executive at Nine, David Hurley, and the company’s general counsel, Rachel Launders.

The five-page report examined the role of management, whether the story was worth the risk, and cultural issues within the company.

It makes the following conclusions (verbatim):

  • “Poor judgement, which manifested in a number of respects (such as the extent of the due diligence on the expertise of CARI, payment of funds direct to CARI, lack of consideration given to alternative exit strategies from Lebanon, failure to raise concerns about the proposed story with 60 Minutes management and failure to notify 60 Minutes management when it appeared that the plan for implementation would not operate as intended),
  • failure to adhere to Nine’s usual procedures relating to consideration of security risks, safety assessments and approval of contractual arrangements,
  • a significant level of autonomy for producers, without adequate oversight by management on issues that raised significant risks to Nine, and
  • trust in the deep experience and capabilities of the team members who went to Beirut and a strong culture of team loyalty and unity, which did not encourage team members to press concerns.”

 

Producer Stephen Rice will be leaving the company, while other staff have received formal warnings, and new processes are being put in place.

Here’s a passage from NEC’s statement to media:

[Gerald Stone]: “It’s clear from our findings that inexcusable errors were made. I still believe, however, that 60 Minutes – lessons learned – can continue to earn the respect and attention of the viewing public for years to come.”

Nine CEO Hugh Marks said: “The manner in which we produced Sally Faulkner’s story exposed our crew to serious risks, and exposed 60 Minutes and Nine to significant reputational damage. We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences.

“Among other elements of the execution of this story it was inappropriate, and at odds with our standard procedure, for a payment to be made directly by 60 Minutes to the recovery agency that had been independently contracted by Sally Faulkner. It was also inappropriate, with the risks involved for our crew, not to have consulted with Nine’s security advisers before the story was finalised.”

“As a result of the review, we are expanding and upgrading our processes related to story selection and approval, how we approve contracts and payments and the way we conduct risk assessments. We have an obligation to our staff, our shareholders and our viewers to operate in ways that enhance our reputation as a leading producer of news and current affairs,” Marks said.

“We also accept a broader obligation to get our judgement calls right regarding what stories we pursue, and how we pursue them. Implementation of the recommendations of the review will assist us in making the right choices in the future,” Marks said.

“More than two children a week are believed to be taken from Australia as part of custody disputes. It is an important issue that 60 Minutes was attempting to bring to wider public attention and we hope that the actions of our crew have not in any way diminished the importance of the issue,” Marks said.

“At its best, 60 Minutes represents outstanding journalism that remains of vital importance to our viewers, to the wider community and to Nine. This incident, while deeply regrettable does not diminish our commitment to the program or our confidence in its future given the highly talented team who produce the program each week,” Marks said.

Stephen Rice, the producer of the Sally Faulkner story, will be leaving the company effective immediately. Other staff involved in the planning and execution of this story have received formal warnings. The crew continue to receive counselling related to the events in Lebanon and the other team members will return to work soon.

Chairman of NEC, Peter Costello said after consideration of the report, its recommendations and the response of management, the Board has decided to put in place a strengthened Risk Assessment Process in addition to enhanced financial controls and delegations.  These procedures will be verified on a regular basis.

Peter Costello said: “It is the determination of the Board to build a robust system of checks and balances to guard against such events occurring in the future. Our talented people are the most valuable resource of the company and their safety is our priority.”

 

 

NEC further stated that the crew is still limited in what it can say about the events as its members potentially face cases to answer from the Lebanese justice system. Civil claims brought by the father Ali Elamine and Faulkner have been settled.