The embattled chief executive of Seven West Media, Tim Worner, has remained defiant about the fallout from his affair with an employee, as he delivered a 91 per cent fall in half-year profit on Wednesday.
At the same time, Mr Worner pointed to difficult times in traditional free-to-air television, and challenges from social media, as factors that dragged the profit down to $12.4 million.
Seven West Media shares slumped more than 6 per cent to 73 cents following the profit result.
Mr Worner acknowledged the affair with then-employee Amber Harrison during his presentation.
“Over the past two months much has been written and discussed concerning the ongoing claim of a former employee,” he said.
“I have apologised for what did happen and we don’t wish to give any more oxygen to things that did not happen.”
Ms Harrison launched a high-profile social media campaign against Seven West Media, releasing documents and details about her affair with Mr Worner, including claims he snorted cocaine during one of their encounters.
The scandal has damaged Seven West’s reputation, prompting the company to seek a court injunction to stop Ms Harrison from leaking documents.
Kennett defends decision to retain Worner
Seven West Media board member and former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, who has been involved in a bitter stoush with Ms Harrison on social media, has rejected claims the company is trying to destroy her with its legal muscle.
“We have spent a considerable amount of time as a board, we have authorised an independent inquiry at great cost to our shareholders, and that found Ms Harrison’s claims were not substantiated,” he said.
He also accused Ms Harrison of releasing documents that she had no right to release.
“It was commercial documentation that was Seven’s property and I was concerned as was the board Ms Harrison was in possession of substantial other documentation, that had nothing to do with this issue, but was commercially sensitive,” he said.
“This started as an affair between two people that should not have occurred.
“We have bent over backwards to address her issues, we have financially compensated her to the extent of approximately $330,000.”
Mr Kennett defended the decision not to sack Mr Worner over the affair.
“He [Mr Worner] was called in, admonished, he was financially penalised, he might have been, under different circumstances, someone might have said alright this is totally inappropriate and therefore you are going, but that is not what the Seven West Media board did at the time.”
West newspaper circulation slump
In another blow for the Seven West Media Group, figures show a big slump in readership of the company’s newspapers.
Roy Morgan Research released the latest print readership cross-platform audience results for the 12 months to the end of December.
Seven West Media’s flagship newspaper masthead had the most weekday readers disappear between 2015 and 2016.
Around 62,000 West Australians stopped reading the weekday issues of their only home-grown print newspaper, which was down 14.3 per cent to 373,000.
Meanwhile 56,000 fewer read the Weekend West (down 9.8 per cent to 514,000).
The Sunday Times, which was acquired from News Corp last year, did not fare any better – it was down 12.7 per cent to 370,000 readers.
In contrast, many newspapers based on the east coast gained weekday readers.
The Australian is up 8 per cent year-on-year, with 336,000 readers per average Monday to Friday issue in 2016 – 25,000 more than in 2015.
The Australian Financial Review is up 3.1 per cent to 201,000 readers.