Is Nine’s new chair just a stopgap?

Peter Costello issued a gracious, and self-congratulatory statement to media as he was ushered out the door on Sunday evening, one that has since sparked confusion over some of his wording.

As Capital Brief noted this week, in a story questioning new chair Catherine West’s suitability for the role, Costello’s wording in his exit statement regarding his replacement is curious.

Costello wrote: “The Deputy Chair-Catherine West has been working with the Search Firm and is well placed to Chair the company and conclude the process of refreshing the Board.”

It’s the use of the phrase “conclude the process” that has Capital Brief interested. It does make it seem like this may be a temporary posting for West. At least that’s one reading of it.

Earlier in the note, Costello stated: “Last year, the Company retained a Search Firm to identify new Directors. The work is well advanced.”

The statement about West concluding this process, one of which he oversaw the majority of, could also be read as Costello’s simply assurance that the work will be done under this new, worthy steward.

But let’s dig a little deeper. The next section can also be read in two distinct ways.

“The Board has been supportive through the events of the last month and last few days in particular. But going forward I think they need a new Chair to unite them around a fresh vision and someone with the energy to lead to that vision for the next decade. The new Chair will require full support from all Directors as this is an industry where there is fierce rivalry.”

The most generous reading of this is that Costello has had the support of the board during this turmoil, but now, given said turmoil, feels a replacement would be best. As that replacement, Catherine West therefore needs similar board support to which he received, in order to continue Nine’s success. Go, Catherine!

Another, more conspiracy-laden reading will note that Costello doesn’t name West once during this section, instead referring to the role of Chair, as if it is yet to be filled. Further so, “But going forward I think they need a new Chair” suggests that this goal is yet to be achieved, and West’s posting is merely to “conclude the process of refreshing the Board.”

West is not without controversy. She was named as the board member to whom an unnamed high-profile presenter raised initial concerns about alleged leaks to the press and delays in her 2019 contract negotiations. It is also alleged she pressured a Sydney Morning Herald columnist to amend a 2020 piece that speculated over how she voted in a board meeting regarding former chief Hugh Marks.

One person who is unlikely to be in line for Chair is former managing director Jeff Browne, who was in talks last year with the network about joining the board, but delivered a spray against his former bosses on the weekend, telling the Herald Sun. “Not only has the business failed to achieve a culture of mutual trust and respect, it has failed to deliver any incremental value to shareholders.”

Here’s part of Costello’s kiss-off to the media that cannot be misinterpreted.

“Note to journalists: I will not be doing any interviews or commenting further on any issues this weekend so no need to maintain vigil outside my home.”

Although, he did say “this weekend.” It’s mid-week, now. Time to camp out again.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.