Nine chief executive Hugh Marks has conceded the media company’s decision to host a $10,000-a-head Liberal fundraiser at its Sydney television studios was a “mistake”.
Journalists from the media empire’s recently acquired newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Australian Financial Review, were outraged management would allow the company to be associated with the event.
In a statement issued through the journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, they condemned management for undermining their independence.
On Wednesday afternoon the executive editor of Nine’s newspaper arm, James Chessell, emailed staff to apologise.
“Perception does matter, particularly when it comes to our relationship with subscribers, contacts and others who rely on our journalism,” Mr Chessell wrote.
“In this sense the Monday function was regrettable.
“I note the House Committee’s statement from yesterday which reflects the views of many staff worried the event could temporarily tarnish our reputation for independence.”
Mr Chessell, who was at the helm of the Fairfax newspapers before the company’s merger with Nine, said executives had not sought to influence newspaper reporting since the companies joined forces.
He said he passed staff concerns on to TV boss Hugh Marks.
“He has responded by telling me it was a mistake to host the function,” Mr Chessell wrote.
“Hugh made the important point Nine’s primary motivation was to engage with the government on issues of importance to the newsrooms – such as press freedom and the ACCC’s inquiry into digital platforms – which is a valid argument for management to make.
“But he concedes it could have been handled better.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended the event at Nine’s Willoughby studios in Sydney, along with a number of members of his frontbench.
The most recent Australian Electoral Commission political donation figures show Nine donated $27,500 to the federal Liberal and Labor parties in 2017-2018.