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    Peter Costello stands down as Nine chair

    Peter Costello has stepped down as Nine Entertainment chairman and resigned as a director, effective immediately, following his altercation with a News Corp journalist on Thursday.

    Deputy chair Catherine West will take over as chair. In a statement issued on Sunday, Costello said CEO Mike Sneesby has always had his full support, and expressed his faith in the investigation into complaints against ex-news boss Darren Wick. 

    Costello said he had previously told the board that after nearly 11 years, he would retire after the Paris Olympics and before the AGM in November.

    That timing has now been brought forward, after a journalist at The Australian claimed Costello pushed him over. The journalist Liam Mendes confronted Costello in the arrivals lounge at Canberra Airport, asking him questions about ­the allegations against Nine’s ex-news director Wick, and whether, as a result, Costello supports Sneesby. 

    In a video of the incident, Mendes falls to the ground and says, “You just assaulted me.” Former treasurer Costello denied assaulting the journalist, telling Nine reporters at the opening of a new bureau – his reason for travelling to Canberra – “I did not lay a finger or a fist or anything else on him.”

    A Nine spokesperson said, “the journalist collided with an advertising placard and fell. At no point did the chairman strike the journalist.” 

    In today’s statement, Costello said: “The board has been supportive through the events of the last month and last few days in particular. But going forward I think they need a new chair to unite them around a fresh vision and someone with the energy to lead to that vision for the next decade.

    “The new chair will require full support from all directors as this is an industry where there is fierce rivalry. I do not rate the attacks of a commercial rival. The threat to this industry comes externally from trillion dollar technology companies that are competing for its business. To stand still or hope to continue to do things as they always have been done is not an option.”

    Costello said a recruitment process for new directors has been underway since last year, spearheaded by deputy chair West. She “is well placed to chair the company and conclude the process of refreshing the Board,” Costello said.

    Nine Entertainment is investigating its TV newsroom culture after multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour were made against Wick, its former national director of news and current affairs.

    Wick left the network in March after 29 years at the company, 13 years in the position, and more than a month away from the office. He announced his departure in a staff email seen by Mediaweek, writing: “After many long beach walks and even longer conversations, I know in my heart that this is the right time for me to step down and leave Nine.”

    Costello used his statement to “place a few facts on the record” concerning the allegations and subsequent investigation.

    “Mr Sneesby has always had my full support as CEO,” he said. “The company has set up a robust process to investigate historical complaints which has my full support. I believe it will get to the bottom of any unknown issues.”

    In Nine’s statement, lodged with the ASX, the new chair West said: “The board knows that the events of recent weeks have been extremely difficult and de-stabilising for our employees and other stakeholders and we are committed to ensuring, through our cultural review and other actions announced last week, that issues will be appropriately addressed.

    “The Board and management are united in focusing on the well-being of our people in all parts of our business. At Nine, we do work that has an important value to the community and the Board and management acknowledge their responsibility to ensure all parts of business, including our newsrooms, feel supported. We want to ensure our people can feel proud of our company and colleagues and the work they do.”

    She added: “As chairman, he [Costello] has always put the needs of the company first and his decision to stand down and pass on the baton of leading Nine at this time is in line with that approach.”

    The board also said it acknowledges that “action and accountability are required to maintain trust.” It also thanked Costello for playing “a key role in Nine milestones such as its successful re-listing on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2013, securing the landmark News Media Bargaining Code and the transformative merger with Fairfax Media.”

    Costello joined the Nine board in 2013. “It was in the hands of distressed credit funds who brought me in to help with capital reconstruction and listing on the ASX which we achieved in 2013,” he said.

    He pointed to a number of achievements in his time on the board, including the Fairfax acquisition, Stan’s establishment as “the most successful Australian subscription streaming service which runs at a profit”, acquisition of stations in Adelaide and Perth, gaining full ownership of Nine Radio, and nabbing a majority interest in Domain.

    West added: “Peter has led the transformation of Nine from a free to air network to a fully integrated media company with traditional and digital media assets across television, streaming publishing, audio and marketplaces.”

    Costello said: “I wish the board, the employees and the company well. There are enormous challenges ahead but I believe NEC is the best placed Australian media company to weather them and prosper.”

    He added that he will not be doing further interviews, so told journalists there is “no need to maintain vigil outside my home.”

    As a result of his exit and West’s elevation, Mickie Rosen has been appointed to the audit and risk committee and Mandy Pattinson to chair of the people and remuneration committee.

    The post Peter Costello stands down as Nine chair appeared first on Mediaweek.

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