Posted: 27 May, 2016
Findings of Nine’s independent review
The 60 Minutes producer behind the botched child kidnap story in Beirut has lost his job, while a review found the Nine Network made inexcusable errors in covering the matter.
Among the errors, the review found the 60 Minutes team went against company policy by directly paying a child recovery agency.
Producer Stephen Rice has left the network, while others, including reporter Tara Brown, have received formal warnings over what has been labelled "the gravest misadventure in the program's history", but 60 Minutes will continue.
Nine CEO Hugh Marks said the network and program have suffered significant damage to their reputation in a case that exposed its crew, who were detained in Beirut for a fortnight, to serious risks.
"We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences," Mr Marks said in a statement on Friday.
A three-member internal inquiry found the case tarnished the program's world-wide reputation for credible reportage.
Founder and former producer of 60 Minutes, Gerald Stone, said, “I had the honour to help start that stopwatch ticking 37 years ago and regrettably this has been the gravest misadventure in the program’s history.
Producers at 60 Minutes had such a high level of autonomy that the executive producer saw no need to consult the news director on the wisdom of commissioning the story, the inquiry found.
"If Nine's usual procedures had been adhered to, the errors of judgment may have been identified earlier, with the result that the story would not have been undertaken at all, or at least not in the way in which it was implemented," it said.
Nine's reputation is "tarnished" because it paid the child recovery agency involved directly, rather than the talent, which went against Nine's standard procedure.
Two payments totalling $115,000 were made direct to Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), which had been independently contracted by Sally Faulkner to retrieve her children Lahela, five, and Noah, three.
"There was little practical difference in paying that company directly, and paying Ms Faulkner, when Nine well knew what all of the funds would be used for, and this exacerbated the risks faced by Nine," the review said.
One of Nine's internal lawyers had in fact queried the direct payment, but the concern was discounted by the producer on the basis that payments to third parties had been done before.
In addition to the direct payment, Mr Marks said it was also inappropriate not to have consulted Nine's security advisers before the story was finalised.
"As a result of the review, we are expanding and upgrading our processes related to story selection and approval, how we approve contracts and payments and the way we conduct risk assessments," he said.
Review member and former 60 Minutes producer Gerald Stone believes the program still has a future.
"It's clear from our findings that inexcusable errors were made," Mr Stone said.
"I still believe, however, that 60 Minutes - lessons learned - can continue to earn the respect and attention of the viewing public for years to come."
Mr Rice, Ms Brown and two other 60 Minutes crew members were detained in Beirut for a fortnight, while CARI boss Adam Whittington and three colleagues remain locked up.