Updated: Ten tells Seven ‘we will not be bullied’ amid claims John Stephens was on prescription drugs when he signed contract


Network Ten has said it held long negotiations with programmer John Stephens after rivals Seven said he was under the influence of prescription drugs when he signed on with the network, with Ten retorting it “is not prepared to be bullied”.

Ten released the statement this morning following The Australian’s publication of an email exchange between Stephens and Ten CEO Hamish McLennan, in which Stephens blamed the influence of heavy painkillers for his decision to leave Seven for Ten.

The senior Seven executive had announced he would leave Kerry Stokes’ network to take the job as director of scheduling and acquisitions at Network Ten on March 7.

However in an email to McLennan on March 10, Stephens, understood to have been recovering from a hip operation, said: “Now that I have stopped the painkillers and other drugs and with a clear mind, felt that I can no longer accept the appointment and will not be commencing employment with Ten.”

This morning Ten said Stephens held extensive negotiations with the network in relation to his contract with the company.

“Network Ten wants to get the truth of what happened after that contract was signed by Mr Stephens. The leaking of confidential documents to the media only strengthens our resolve,” the statement said.

“We believe Seven Network, Bruce McWilliam, Tim Worner and others have a case to answer. On March 17, Justice Brereton in the Supreme Court of NSW stated there is a seriously arguable case that Seven Network has engaged in conduct that constitutes an interference with Network Ten’s agreement with Mr Stephens.

“In light of recent events, and this case, Network Ten is not prepared to be bullied. Network Ten believes Seven Network has induced breach of, and interfered with, its contract with Mr Stephens.”

Both Seven and Ten had issued contrasting statements yesterday afternoon on the fate of the veteran programmer after they went to court on Monday afternoon with a judge striking out an injunction from Ten preventing Stephens from working at Seven, and ordering the network to pay his legal costs.

Yesterday afternoon Seven issued a statement saying Stephens remained their employee, despite Network Ten’s public announcement on March 7 that he would be joining Ten and was critically important to Ten’s turnaround strategy”.

Minutes later Ten issued a statement saying he “remains under a contract with Network Ten, which is continuing and has not been terminated” and it expects him to start work on June 9.

It continued: “In proceedings commenced by Network Ten against Seven Network, Network Ten claims that Seven Network has induced breach of, and interfered with, that contract. Those proceedings remain before the Supreme Court of NSW.”

It is understood a court date to settle the matter has been scheduled in five weeks.

Update: An earlier version of this story said Ten had rejected the claim John Stephens was on prescription drugs during negotiations, however we are happy to clarify the statement said it is looking to find the truth of the situation. We are happy to clarify this.


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