Network Ten: Seven has ‘case to answer’ over exec u-turn

Network Ten in Australia has accused rival channel Seven of having “a case to answer” relating to the pair’s clash over the hiring of a seasoned programming executive.

Earlier this month on March 7, Ten announced it had poached veteran programmer John Stephens from Seven to become its director of scheduling and acquisitions.

However, Stephens revealed three days later he had a change of heart would remain with market leading Aussie net Seven.

Yesterday, emails dated March 10 from Stephens to Seven CEO Hamish McLennan were published in The Australian newspaper claiming he had signed the Ten contract while under the influence of painkillers taken after a hip operation and would not be joining the rival broadcaster.

However, Ten, whose non-executive chairman is Rupert Murodch’s son Lachlan, claimed it had held “extensive negotiations” with Stephens over the role.

The network said a New South Wales Supreme Court judge had ruled there was a “seriously arguable case” over Seven’s conduct after the contract was signed. “We believe Seven Network, [commercial director] Bruce McWilliam, [CEO] Tim Worner and others have a case to answer.”

“In light of recent events, and this case, Network Ten is not prepared to be bullied. Network Ten believes Seven Network has induced breach of, and interfered with, its contract with Mr Stephens.”

Both sides claimed in statements yesterday that Stephen is their employee. However, on Monday a judge blocked an injunction brought by Ten banning him from working at Seven and ordered it to pay legal costs.

Stephens is a former director of programming at Australia’s other leading commercial channel, Nine, and former head of programming strategy and acquisitions at Seven. More recently he was Seven’s programming consultant.

The situation is further muddied by the fact Seven took Ten to court in 2011 to ensure its former sales boss James Warburton could not begin a role as Ten CEO until January 2012. Warburton was sacked by Ten in the midst of poor ratings last year and replaced by McLennan.