Nine CEO Hugh Marks admits Liberal fundraiser ‘could have been handled better’

After the journalists of Nine’s recently acquired print titles, including The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), The Age and The Australian Financial Review (AFR), reached out to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) to voice their concerns over a $10,000-per-ticket Liberal fundraiser held at Nine’s Willoughby offices on Monday evening and hosted by Nine CEO Hugh Marks, the CEO has admitted the event “could have been handled better”.

In an email sent to staff by Australian Metro Publishing group executive editor James Chessell, it was confirmed Marks had said the event was a ‘mistake’, but that the CEO doubled down on the importance of political relationships.

Marks said that while the event was important to discuss ‘key issues’ it ‘could have been handled better’

News broke of the fundraiser first across the AFR, with the SMH quickly following suit with a story, including a report the writer reached out to staff at Willoughby who “declined to comment”.

The fundraising event, which had a ticket price of $10,000-a-head, was attended by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, communications minister Paul Fletcher, education minister Dan Tehan, trade minister Simon Birmingham, government services minister Stuart Robert, and assistant financial services minister Jane Hume. It sparked concerns because it was hosted and catered by Nine, raising the question of whether Nine had essentially ‘donated’ to the Liberal government.

In the letter to staff, Chessell drew attention to The SMH and The Age’s charter of editorial independence which has been in place since 1998, and the fact it makes the Liberal party event “irrelevant to the way we report the news”.

Chessell went on to say nobody at Nine had attempted to influence editorial coverage at the previously-Fairfax titles since the merge.

“Overall the merger has been an extremely positive experience for the newsrooms,” read the letter.

But, it went on to say that the function was ‘regrettable’ and that staff were ‘worried’ about its impact on the reputation of the print titles. This is what sparked a meeting with Marks, in which he told Chessell it was a “mistake” to host the event.

However, Marks said Nine’s primary motivation for the event was to engage with the government on “issues of importance to the newsrooms” including press freedom and the ACCC digital platforms inquiry.

But, Marks conceded, it could have been “handled better”.


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