“To make it in this game you have to have f*ckability,” journalist and former Channel Nine correspondent Christine Spiteri was allegedly told by her boss at the time, Nine news director John Westacott.
She sued the network in 2008 for six figures after she was sacked the year before.
It was neither the first nor the last time a woman would be the subject of alleged sexist comments or behaviour within the organisation.
For many years, there have been many women who have spoken privately about their alleged mistreatment at the hands of former and current Channel Nine executives, both past and present. Women who say they have been the subject of smear campaigns. Who claim they have been derided to the media behind their backs while they worked at the network and even more brutally sledged after they left.
This week though, we didn’t hear about “f*ckability”. Instead, one of the network’s biggest stars (until Monday), Lisa Wilkinson, was portrayed by Nine executives as a greedy diva who dared to ask for more than her bosses thought she deserved – who dared to want the same shot at prime time hosting gigs as was repeatedly offered to her co-host Karl Stefanovic.
It’s been an ugly week as the network has sought to place its version of events in the media.
Lisa Wilkinson’s move to Channel 10 after Nine “failed to meet her expectations” regarding pay, however, is just the latest in a string of incidents stemming from the workplace, where a “boys’ culture” appears to continue unabated just as it has for years.
“Certainly the Australian TV industry borders on misogynous,” Michael Bodey, one of Australia’s leading media writers, wrote for The Australian in 2011 – he was referring in particular to Channel Nine. “The sexist culture that holds sway at the free-to-air TV networks is embarrassing to the industry and a matter of deep humiliation to many women.”
What we are left with is the stories from countless female professionals who have spoken out about the treatment they allegedly faced at the network. Many more refuse to go on the record for fear of retribution.
There was Christine Spiteri, who, “f*ckability” aside, had also allegedly been told by John Westacott: “You should work for SBS, you certainly have the name for it.”
There was Jessica Rowe, who years after her time at Nine, told a Studio Ten audience it was a “terrible time in my life and it was not helped by public abuse; abuse from within the network that I worked at; and abuse from someone who was in charge of that particular network,” according to the Daily Mail.
There was reporter Ellen Fanning, who in a 1999 profile with The Sydney Morning Herald, claimed the news and current affairs boss Peter Meakin had told her: “[You’re not] drop dead gorgeous, which is a minus to some people in TV.”
How many men have to endure having their physical appearance rated by their boss?
There are also the revelations from veteran journalist Tracey Spicer. On Thursday, she labelled late Nine News director John Sorell a “monster” and said multiple instances of sexual harassment are recounted in her memoir Good Girl Stripped Bare.
Former Channel Nine executive, Mia Freedman, went on to co-found Mamamia after seven months at the network which she has described as “a culture so toxic and so bad for women that it was the most distressing career experience of my life”.
Should Lisa and Karl have discussed pay as a team? Post continues below.
And now it’s Lisa’s turn.
Wikinson’s pay dispute – that she was reportedly earning half as much as her co-host Karl Stefanovic – is just one more example pointing to Nine’s apparent problem with women.
The pay in itself is one thing. The doubling down of Nine’s CEO Hugh Marks who told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday he “went to an incredible amount of trouble to build that $1.8 million package for her” (… which would still not be equal to Stefanovic’s rumoured salary of about $2 million) is another thing altogether. Greedy, greedy, Wilkinson.
Still, if there is any doubt about Nine’s private boys’ club culture, you can look to the televised behaviour of one of its stars.
The Footy Show presenter Sam Newman has been co-hosting the Nine program since 1994, despite consistent accusations of sexist remarks and behaviour.
Newman, in 2008, also performed a skit about AFL journalist Caroline Wilson in which he dressed a mannequin in lingerie, stapled a picture of Wilson’s face onto it, manhandled it and made provocative remarks. He remains front and centre in all the promotional photos for the new season of The Footy Show, a rolled gold Channel Nine star. Who knows how much Newman is paid compared to the show’s female co-host Rebecca Maddern?
Oh, and who could forget the times he described his co-host Maddern as "plumpish", or told her to "get on your knees"?
This is the public face the TV network is not afraid to show the nation. And while we do not know what exactly goes on day-to-day behind the shiny Channel Nine doors, and across the slick surfaces of male dominated board room tables, we do have the women telling their experiences.
And in her new autobiography, A Bold Life, Australian TV legend Kerri-Anne Kennerley reveals how shabbily she was treated by Channel Nine, finding out from a journalist that her job as host of Mornings had been given to Sonia Kruger.
Would they treat Karl like that? Laurie Oakes? Peter Overton or Eddie McGuire?
Wilkinson, like Rowe and Spiteri and now Spicer, has been brave enough - perhaps powerful enough - to stand up to the people who have allegedly disrespected her and who time and time again, appear to have wildly underestimated how women feel when they see other women being devalued and diminished.
And this courage might be the only chance there is to finally change the 'boys club' culture that is broadcast media.
Thank you Lisa.