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The Checkout producer slams ABC partnership with vitamin brand Swisse

The executive producer of Gruen and The Checkout has slammed the ABC’s partnership with vitamin brand Swisse Wellness.
Swisse

The ABC announced Swisse Wellness, the Victorian State Government and Monash University as partners for ABC International’s multi-platform international media service, Australia Plus, on Monday.

The partnerships will see ABC International highlight the work of Monash, the Victorian State Government and Swisse in their respective fields across its Australia Plus platforms and through Australia Plus media partner networks throughout Asia.

Nick Murray questioned the ability of the ABC to balance editorial and commercial when working with a brand such as Swisse.

“It’s the first time that I know of that the ABC has announced any sort of brand partnerships with any of their divisions,” he said.

“I know from making shows for commercial networks, that no matter what the good intentions are in separating editorial interests from commercial interests you will end up with a situation in which they impact each other.”

Nick Murray

Murray: “The brand was over-reacting but that’s what happens”

Swisse has been at loggerheads with the ABC in the past, with the father of Swisse-founder, Radek Sali, filing legal action against CJZ-produced program The Checkout arguing the show severely injured his reputation after it poured scorn over the brand’s relationship between the National Institute of Integrative Medicine which conducted a clinical trial of Swisse vitamins, and was founded by him.

Murray said that commercial interests do impact upon content.

“It happened to us with Unilever, we were making a sketch comedy show for one of the networks and we had a character in it called ‘Henry Lipton’ and Henry Lipton dipped his balls in people’s drinks and the sketch was called Henry Lipton’s tea-bags,” he said.

“Unilever rang the network the morning after the show went to air and threatened to pull $20m worth of advertising from the network and they came to us and they said you have to take Henry Lipton out of the show.

“You can understand it – it’s a huge amount of money. In my view the brand was over-reacting but that’s what happens.”

Murray argued the ABC does not “have the systems in place to deal with that kind of eventuality”.

“Unless there are systems in place to not have any business people at the ABC involved in the commissioning process for programs, then I don’t think they’re capable of handling this kind of business relationship,” he said.

Murray said there are people within ABC who will try to ensure the partnership does not impact upon programming.

“Certainly all the people at the ABC who we will deal with will fight to make sure that it doesn’t impact programs like The Checkout, but there are other people in the organisation who are driven from a financial perspective who may put pressure on them. That’s what I’m not sure the ABC is ready to cope with that,” he said.

“How much money should you put at risk for editorial independence? They have to be prepared if Swisse say ‘we are prepared to take our money out of this relationship if you don’t do X’ and you have to say okay, see you later.”

Murray suggests that Swisse was never the right brand partner for the ABC.

“The question that we’ve all been asking was ‘is that the correct brand partner for the ABC’? It’s already questionable having brand partners but if you’re going to have someone, is Swisse the right one?

“All they are doing it for is to have an association with one of the most trusted brands in the country – the ABC. They are happy to pay the money to have the association.”

An ABC spokesperson said: “All Australia Plus content is subject to the established and rigorous requirements of the ‘editorial policies’. The commercial partnerships will in no way undermine the ABC’s commitment to these policies.”

The story emerged from comments made by Nick Murray to TV Tonight.

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