Free TV chairman Jeff Browne resigns following network brawl

Jeff Browne the chairman of commercial television lobby and marketing group Free TV has resigned following infighting among the major television networks over proposed changes to the media ownership rules.

In an email sent to the board of the organisation Browne, who is also the managing director of Nine Network, said he was resigning in order to provide “fresh start” for the organisation.

The resignation followed a report in The Australian on Monday which quoted fellow Free TV directors and accused Browne of using his industry role to favour his employer.

These claims were rejected by Browne who in his resignation to the board wrote:

I agree with Bruce that it was very disappointing to read yesterday’s Media section in the Australian. Very damaging for us as an industry.

I do not know who is responsible as the story was unsourced however I accept Bruce’s (McWilliams Seven’s commercial director) assurance that no-one from Seven spoke to the journalist and it was certainly no-one from Nine.

I accepted the position of Chairman after Wayne stood down, I did not seek it. I obtained agreement from the Prime Minister to the package of reforms which were included in our Free TV submission to the Convergence Review. I discussed that package subsequently with members without any protest or complaint at that time.

I accept that anyone of us occupying the Chair can be open to the soft charge of perceived bias. None of us could avoid that as we all have our ‘day jobs’ however I can assure everyone that I have not acted to try and advantage one of us over another, save by arguing strongly for the 2 for 1 multi-channel drama credit, which was very specific to Ten.

Browne also appeared to hint that the TV network might withdraw from the group, writing that: “I agree that Free TV needs to re-examine itself,” and that “Nine will consider its on-going participation in the light of what now unfolds.”

The focus of dispute has been Nine’s ongoing attempts to merge its TV assetts with SCA’s regional broadcaster Southern Cross.

In order for the deal to go through the Federal Government must remove rules that restrict the merger of metropolitan and regional television networks. While FreeTV had generally supported broader changes to Australian content rules and licence fees the board was bitterly divided on the issue of media ownership.

Browne’s was expected to step down following the September Federal election. Mumbrella understands he had sounded out senior former politicians to take the role following his departure. Those canvassed included former prime minister John Howard and former deputy prime minister John Anderson.

Former Labor premier Wayne Goss was the previous chairman and was generally viewed as an effective lobbyist for the networks.

Nic Christensen


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