If Seven was hoping the silly season would bring an end to the media scrutiny surrounding Tim Worner it got bad news today.
New articles delve into even more depth about what went on between its CEO and executive assistant Amber Harrison, as well as the methods the company took to bury her. New texts from both parties published are even more explicit than previously, while it is reported it has all come as a shock to wife, Katrina Worner.
Amongst the new revelations Fairfax claims News Corp has been “sitting on the story” for a month, only acting when the Sydney Morning Herald began making enquiries on Sunday.
Indeed a lengthy and insightful piece in the Daily Telegraph details a meeting between Ms. Harrison and journalist Annette Sharp on November 21 in Melbourne.
The story didn’t break until December 18th, some two years after the relationship ended after protracted negotiations, including the company sacking her, citing fraudulent credit card use and signing her to confidentiality.
“I just want to explode the bomb and get on with my life,” Harrison told the newspaper. “It’s been hanging over me for long enough. I’ve tried everything I can. Like I have exhausted everything. I would have happily walked (away from this) if they’d given me the job they offered as part of contract one but they had to do this. They had to just continue to roll out the ruining of my life.
“They know they’ve got me. Let’s say even if I found backing to go to court, they would frustrate the process for another five years. I’m 39 now, this has already taken up four years of my life.”
Harrison had initially hoped for payment for her story, down to her last $700 last month, but accepted it would compromise any creditability her story had.
Articles weigh heavily against the might of the media company crushing its sole opponent, in order to protect an executive. Questions for the Board persist.
But there are also hints of earlier press revelations, according to Fairfax, when Harrison hired workplace lawyers Harmers to represent her.
In March 2015 reporters got wind that Harmers had been hired to take on a bigwig at Seven. Word got back to Seven, who launched a pre-emptive strike by leaking an item to The Australian Financial Review’s Rear Window column.
“An internal investigation into the employee found that they had accrued more than $200,000 in unauthorised company expenditure over a period of more than five years, including for personal household items,” the item said.
“The employee argued the transactions were within company guidelines, and Seven gave them the benefit of the doubt that they had not spent the company’s money with fraudulent intent.
“Seven settled with the employee confidentially,” the report noted, adding: “The industry has been abuzz with wild rumours about what had really taken place on CEO Tim Worner’s executive floor.”
However, her identity was inadvertently revealed in the final paragraph which read: “We attempted unsuccessfully to contact Harrison. Seven refused to comment.”
The Seven West code of conduct for directors states that “a director must act honestly, in good faith and in the best interest of Seven West Media as a whole”. It goes on: “A director should not engage in conduct likely to bring discredit upon the company.
Sources close to the Seven board told Fairfax Media that a number of them wanted Worner sacked, especially after there was no firm denial about allegations of drugs.
The longer this goes on, the more likely it will end up in court, the newspaper suggests – a forum in which the public gets to see all the details of all the text messages sent between the parties over two years. All of this will be under consideration as the directors hold a series of unscheduled board meetings this week.
The Australian reports Seven’s board would face a financial dilemma if it were to cut Worner loose. His contract expires in July 2018 and has a one-year termination clause. If he left at the end of the Seven inquiry and was given a year’s pay in lieu of notice, he would leave with pay almost to the end of his existing five-year deal.
He also has a swag of fully paid Seven shares and 3.5 million executive options that he could negotiate over with Chairman Kerry Stokes and the head of the board’s remuneration committee, John Alexander.
Meanwhile a blog website complicates matters as it continues to publish the names of two high profile stars, named in Harrison’s claims, despite an order by the Supreme Court of NSW to remove them. Other names (numbering as high as seven, one article suggests) have been denied.
“What I did was wrong. What I did is certainly not a reflection of the standards of the shareholders, the chairman, the board, or any of you,” Worner wrote to staff this week. “You are entitled to, and I hope expect, better decisions from me.”
Seven Network has appointed Allens law firm to conduct an independent inquiry, to be joined by a major accounting firm.
Rightly or wrongly, there are suggestions Harrison will not be interviewed.