May 28, 2024

A tawdry tale of how Nine became its own headline


Elizabeth Knight

Business columnist

May 28, 2024 — 3.46pm
May 28, 2024 — 3.46pm
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Having written many columns over the years about the insidious plague of workplace sexual harassment and bullying, it is difficult to ignore when Nine, my employer, has become its own headline in this space.

It joins an ignominious list of companies embroiled in a type of scandal whose direction is as unknown as the length of its governance casualty list.

Nine has been criticised over its handling of a sexual harassment complaint.Credit: Joe Armao

Sure, it would be easy and fair to say Nine is no Robinson Crusoe in this regard – and only this week Country Road has been outed with its own staff harassment scandal.

Sadly, that’s no excuse.

But if, for a moment, one removes the emotion from this admittedly charged issue and treats it clinically like any other corporate problem, it falls into the basket of occupational work and safety.


Why is it taking so long for companies to understand that ensuring their workforces are safe from sexual predators is as important as ensuring, for example, that BHP’s mine workers are not injured by heavy equipment, or that Woolworths staff working in warehouses are not at risk while accessing high shelves?

It isn’t enough to ensure each staff member ticks off a workplace safety module in some annual compliance check.

Sure, it is harder to measure the staff’s psychological wellbeing and offering some specialist resources in the wake of a scandal is a start – but it isn’t enough.


One of the most disappointing aspects to the criticisms levelled at Nine regarding the recently departed head of Channel Nine’s news and current affairs division, Darren Wick, is that his alleged penchant for alcohol and lechery was an open secret among the staff in that area for many years.

Almost no employer can screen for this type of person when they are signing up new staff. But a company with a strong cultural compass and good governance hygiene should become aware of poor behaviour because the staff feel they are safe to report it.

Former director of Channel Nine news and current affairs Darren Wick.

It is frightening that there are now up to a dozen current and former staff (all women I believe) who have come forward with similar stories about feeling unsafe to refer their unfavourable experiences with Wick to the higher-ups.

Investigations into “events” and staff hotlines are helpful but must fall into the category of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.

For Nine, unfortunately this must be marked a fail.

For many organisations, a lack of intense focus on health and safety is a function of its absence from the list of key performance indicators that make up executive bonuses.

Cover-ups only compound the problem and non-disclosure agreements are at the really tawdry end of the scale.

Even if health and safety does feature into the performance measures for executives, financial measures are almost always more important to the size of an executives pay package.

And this brings us to another wicked challenge for companies; one best illustrated by the story of AMP, which promoted one of their senior managers and rainmakers Boe Pahari despite a sexual harassment complaint made against him.

This move, which ultimately resulted in the resignation of several board members, was erroneously made because Pahari generated outsized profit for the company.

This appeared to be a clear case of putting profit before safety.

Nine Entertainment chief executive Mike Sneesby returned from leave early to deal with the crisis.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

It seems that Wick was also a high performer, and in the minds of the mostly junior staff underneath him, untouchable.

But as with any scandal or misfortune that comes to light, how much damage is sustained by the organisation and its senior leaders comes down to how it was dealt with.

In my experience, (the relatively few) companies that have openly acknowledged and taken action against sexually inappropriate behaviour or bullying have been given credit for their candour.


At the other end of the spectrum, cover-ups only compound the problem and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are at the really tawdry end of the scale. Nine chief executive Mike Sneesby told staff on Monday that he, at least, had not signed any NDAs while assuring all that the company had initiated an external investigation after the first formal complaint was made about Wick.

One of the most internally damaging actions a company can take is to give any alleged harassment perpetrator a big payout – and there are reports, to date not disputed, that Wick walked away with $1 million.

Even if this was his statutory entitlement as a long-serving well-paid manager, it plays poorly to the optics, and even more poorly within the organisation where there is speculation about editorial job cuts.

And last but never least, how far the damaging tentacles spread can rest with what the board knew of it. There are varying reports on what the board did and didn’t know. But any defence that the board wasn’t aware of Wick’s alleged actions and Nine’s response is itself an indictment.

A key manager accused of sexual harassment is an issue that should go before the board – it is a measure of its seriousness. For the board to be addressing this in crisis mode as Nine’s reputation is being attacked from all angles is another case of closing the barn door.

And it can be frightening how a cultural problem can bleed into a financial issue. Advertisers have a keen nose for avoiding any company infecting their own brands.

Read more:

Second Nine manager resigned amid complaints of inappropriate touchingTabcorp scandal is not the only bizarre corporate blooper  Full disclosure: How McDonald’s made it harder for companies to hide sex scandals

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Elizabeth Knight comments on companies, markets and the economy.Connect via Twitter or email.


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