Monday, June 15, 2009

Packer wobbled on whether to run Keating piggery story, by Jane Schulze - The Australian - 15th June 2009

The late Kerry Packer was so concerned about whether 60 Minutes should broadcast a controversial story about former prime minister Paul Keating's investment in a piggery that he required "quite a session" to be convinced.

John Westacott, who was executive producer of 60 Minutes when the story aired in 1999, and who is today announcing his retirement as the Nine Network's director of news and current affairs, says that Nine's then owner was wobbling on whether to broadcast the story.

"Keating accused Kerry of being behind it but that was absolute rubbish," Mr Westacott told The Australian.

"We (he and the late journalist Paul Lyneham) had quite a session with Kerry to convince him the story should be run because it was true and it was a story that should be told.

"Kerry was concerned about the political fallout over the story and checked at great length with the lawyers about the veracity of what we were saying," Mr Westacott said. "Finally, Paul Lyneham won the day. He told Kerry that if he didn't like a bit of heat 'why didn't he go and start running a shoe shop?' and that hewas a publisher and should publish.

"So Kerry said 'publish your story but I tell you here and now we will all live to remember this day'. And he was quite right.

"Both Lyneham and I lost friends in the Labor Party who didn't think this was right or wrong but that it was beyond the pale to besmirch a PM.

"And Kerry copped a lot of flak for supposedly orchestrating the story."

The original 60 Minutes story alleged Mr Keating had suspect dealings with the Commonwealth Bank relating to the piggery investment.

But no wrongdoing was ever found and an investigation ordered by the Howard government also cleared the former Labor leader.

But the broadcast fanned a longstanding feud between Mr Keating and Mr Packer.

Mr Keating at one stage said Mr Packer's company had "demonstrated it is not fit to hold the licence to telecast over the Channel Nine spectrum" and accused 60 Minutes of being "thuggish".

Westacott, who was in the 60 Minutes role for 16 years, said Mr Packer did not interfere with editorial decisions on the program.

"One of the reasons I was here for so long was because I very much admired and liked working for the bloke.

"He backed all our investigations. I found him supportive and direct and thoroughly understanding of what I did for a living.

"People ask if he interfered, but I never received a directive of how a story should be angled or what story should be pursued. But I did get plenty of advice after the event -- and not all of it was congratulatory.

"But never in the whole time of 60 Minutes did I ever get told 'you should be doing this' or 'do this story for me'.

"But he was always prepared to listen and have the debate and I think he enjoyed that.

"And I enjoyed having it, because he's the proprietor and you have to be able to defend your position," Mr Westacott said. (Credit: The Australian)

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