Home Entertainment Seven West Media CEO James Warburton Makes Immediate Exit Following Scandal

Seven West Media CEO James Warburton Makes Immediate Exit Following Scandal

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James Warburton, MD and CEO of Seven West Media, one of Australia’s largest media conglomerates, has resigned. His departure, previously announced in December, follows a series of scandals. He was scheduled to depart the company in June, but now exits with immediate effect, following a board meeting on Thursday.

In a filing to the Australian Stock Exchange, Seven West said that Jeff Howard, currently its chief finance officer, will take over as MD and CEO with effect from Friday. Craig Haskins will act as interim CFO until a successor to Howard is appointed.

Seven West owns the Seven Network and its affiliates, the 7plus: 7NEWS digital platform and newspapers including The West Australian and the Sunday Times. Its proprietor and chairman, Kerry Stokes thanked Warburton for “his contribution over many years.”

Among the scandals, one was recently revealed in a court case that did not directly involve Seven, but instead appeared to reveal much about it.

Former Liberal Party parliamentary aide Bruce Lehrmann sued another media operation Network 10 for defamation. Lehrmann was tried in court in 2022 over the alleged rape of another political aide Brittany Higgins in Canberra in 2021. But the case and a retrial were abandoned with no findings against him.

Lehrmann’s defamation case alleged that Network 10 and its journalist Lisa Wilkinson made false claims that he raped Higgins. Network 10 and Wilkinson said that they would defend their reporting as “substantially true.”

The court in the defamation trial, however, heard testimony from former Seven Network producer Taylor Auerbach that the company may have paid for drugs and prostitutes along the way to obtaining an exclusive interview with Lehrmann that it aired in 2022 as part of its Spotlight program. Auerbach also testified that he was offered a promotion and a pay rise after he used a corporate credit card to purchase Thai massages for himself and Lehrmann.

After the court testimony Seven issued a statement saying, “We do not condone the behaviors described in these allegations. They do not reflect the culture of Seven.” It also denied offering a promotion or pay rise to Auerbach and said that it had not sought the destruction of evidence, which Auerbach had also claimed.

On Monday this week, the court ruled in favor of Network 10 and Wilkinson’s truth defense. Justice Michael Lee found that, on the balance of probabilities, Lehrmann had raped Higgins.

The revelations about Seven’s reporting practices, including earlier evidence that the network had paid Lehrmann’s rent in Sydney for a year, caused “Spotlight’s” “Trial and Error” episode to be disbarred from the prestigious Walkley Awards. “The entry did not accurately describe the extent of benefits provided to Mr Lehrmann in exchange for interviews, information and exclusive access,” the Walkley Foundation said in December.

Mark Llewellyn, an executive producer on “Spotlight,” also left Seven Network this week, following the defamation case evidence.