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Crown board member Harold Mitchell resigns from Free TV Australia

Thu, Nov 22, 10:55am by Staff Writer

Former Tennis Australia chairman Harold Mitchell has stepped down from his role as chairman of Free TV Australia after allegations surfaced of his role in Seven West Media’s acquisition of the tennis broadcast rights from 2015-19.

Mr Mitchell and former Tennis Australia president Stephen Healy have been named in Federal Court proceedings brought by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation into Tennis Australia’s 2013 decision to sell rights to Seven for a five-year period without a competitive tender process.

It is alleged the pair “withheld material from the Tennis Australia board when it made its decision,” according to court documents and as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tennis Australia awarded Seven a five-year rights deal for A$35 million per year to broadcast tennis in Australia, despite receiving a higher bid in the region of A$50 million from rival networks Nine and Ten, as well as sports management company IMG.

Free TV didn’t push Mitchell’s resignation

Free TV Australia’s members include Seven, Network Ten, Nine Entertainment Co, Prime Media Group, Southern Cross Austereo, WIN Network and Imparja.

In a statement released by the free-to-air lobby group, Mr Mitchell, who also sits on the Crown Resorts board, said it was “with regret that I have been forced to make this decision following the false accusations by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which I intend to vigorously defend.”

Free TV Australia chief executive Bridget Fair said it was “with great regret” Free TV Australia announced Mr Mitchell had made the decision to resign.

Ms Fair remarked that it was “absolutely incorrect” to assert that Mr Mitchell had been pressured to resign.

Seven West Media has denied allegations from the regulator that it received confidential information in its tennis broadcast rights negotiations.

A statement by a Seven spokesman said that the network “had co-operated in the ASIC investigation as required of it and no allegations have been made by ASIC against Seven executives or directors.”

Seven faced stiff competition to retain tennis rights

Court documents prepared by ASIC detail an email from Seven chairman Kerry Stokes in February 2013 ahead of a Tennis Australia board meeting to his senior executives.

In the email, he says: “make no mistake, they (Network Ten) are after the tennis – they will pay a big cheque to start with a marque … We need to make sure we are there at this board meeting – let’s not tae any chances.”

ASIC is hoping to receive declarations that Mr Mitchell and Mr Healy contravened sections of the Corporations Act, as well as orders that Mr Mitchell and Mr Healy be disqualified from managing corporations.

If ASIC gets its way, Mr Mitchell would be forced to relinquish his board positions.

During his tenure as chairman of Free TV Australia, Mr Mitchell was instrumental in the repeal of the media ownership laws, the removal of commercial television license fees, the transition to digital only television, defeating the proposal to increase SBS advertising time limits and maintaining the anti-siphoning list.

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