Free TV defends Harold Mitchell in wake of ASIC probe

By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 21 November 2018
Harold Mitchell

UPDATE: Harold Mitchell has resigned from his role as Free TV chairman.

In a statement, Free TV said Mitchell decided to step down but did not address the legal action against him.

Free TV CEO Bridget Fair says she is “very sorry” to see him depart.

“Harold’s contributions to the industry cannot be overstated,” Fair says.

“Over the past five years he has overseen some of the most significant developments in the commercial television sector and delivered superb leadership and advice, for which we are sincerely grateful.

Free TV has backed chairman Harold Mitchell, denying reports he is under pressure from the body to resign as the fallout from the legal action against him continues to unfold.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) issued civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia against Mitchell for his involvement in the 2013 decision to award Seven the broadcast rights to the Australian Open tournament without a competitive tender process.

The corporate regulator alleges both Mitchell, who was a director at the time, and Stephen Healy, who stepped down from Tennis Australia last year, withheld material information from the Tennis Australia board when it made the decision to award the domestic broadcast rights.

A Free TV spokesperson denied reports Mitchell is under pressure to resign as chairman, telling AdNews reports in Fairfax Media and The Guardian are “completely untrue”.

ASIC has also stated the two failed to ensure the board was fully informed about the value of the rights, the interest of other networks seeking to acquire those rights and the best method of marketing them.

It's also seeking to prove that the two ex-directors failed to advise the board that Tennis Australia was likely to obtain better terms by putting the rights out to competitive tender.

Mitchell, who retired from the board at the end of October, also had numerous charges laid solely against him, including that he passed confidential information to Seven about competitor networks seeking to acquire the rights.

Seven West Media responded to ASIC's court actions, saying it's “disappointed”.

"Seven has cooperated fully with ASIC during this long and drawn out investigation," a spokesperson for Seven told AdNews.

"As a bidder for the rights Seven, which had an exclusive negotiating period under its contract, complied with the process dictated by Tennis Australia.

"In Seven’s experience Harold Mitchell and Stephen Healy always acted in a highly professional and proper manner, and are of the highest character and reputation."

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