Sacked 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice has enlisted the help of a high-profile lawyer to fight his abrupt dismissal over the botched abduction of Sally Faulkner’s two children in Lebanon last month.
A close friend of Rice told the Daily Telegraph on Monday that the veteran producer had hired workplace lawyer John Laxon to challenge the decision that saw him ousted from the Nine Network.
‘They said right from the beginning no one was going to get the sack,’ the friend said.
‘Because of this he wasn’t legally represented at the review and hadn’t sought any legal advice.’
An internal review by the Nine Network did not recommend to the board that any staff member should be singled out for dismissal among 13 recommendations.
Sacked 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice has hired a high-profile lawyer to fight his dismissal
The veteran producer reportedly enlisted the help of workplace lawyer John Laxon when he was sacked from the Nine Network – despite an internal review recommending that no staff member should be singled out for dismissal
Tara Brown was arrested alongside senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment. The 60 Minutes crew is pictured with Nine news boss Darren Wick (second right) after their release from jail last month. Mr Rice (second from left) has been sacked after 32 years with Nine
Ex-60 Minutes boss Gerald Stone, former A Current Affair chief David Hurley and Rachel Launders undertook the investigation, and passed their report onto the Nine Entertainment board on Monday.
‘Regrettably this has been the gravest misadventure in the program’s history,’ said Mr Stone in a statement on Friday.
Nine announced that Stephen Rice, the producer of the Sally Faulkner story and veteran of 32 years with the network, would leave ‘the company effective immediately’.
‘Other staff involved in the planning and execution of this story have received formal warnings.’
During an interview with reporter Michael Usher on Nine Network’s 60 Minutes on Sunday night, the show’s founding producer Gerald Stone justified the dismissal of Rice.
‘If anyone was going to be picked out, it would have to be the producer of the program,’ Stone said.
‘Because things do rest heavily on the role of a producer and that’s why he is a producer, because he should take the blame when those things go wrong.’
High-profile 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown is bundled into a police car in Beirut on April 18
Stephen Rice (right) pictured with Tara Brown on their return to Australia on April 21 after being released from jail in Beirut after facing kidnapping charges over the botched child ‘recovery’ operation. Mr Rice has been sacked, according to a statement by the Nine Network
‘The manner in which we produced Sally Faulkner’s story exposed our crew to serious risks, and exposed 60 Minutes and Nine to significant reputational damage,’ said Nine CEO Hugh Marks.
‘We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences.’
‘It’s clear from our findings that inexcusable errors were made,’ added Mr Stone.
Among the recommended actions was ‘that management censure, in the strongest terms, those most directly involved in the events’.
‘The staff of 60 Minutes has been thoroughly traumatised by the circumstances which confronted four of the team in Beirut, and by the steady barrage of hostile comment,’ the report stated.
The recommendations were considered by board members, including non-executive chairman Peter Costello, Nine CEO Hugh Marks and former CEO David Gyngell.
Rice, 58, was a writer on the Sydney Morning Herald before joining Channel Nine’s Willesee program in 1984 and later became executive producer of A Current Affair.
In 1994 he became executive producer of Sunday and 12 years ago joined 60 Minutes. He is a twice Walkley Award winner for journalism.
The 60 minutes crisis is believed to have cost the network over $1 million and saw the crew, including Rice and veteran reporter Tara Brown, detained in a Beirut prison for two weeks.
Nine insiders have revealed that the budget for 60 Minutes has been cut after the report on Sally Faulkner’s broken family incurred huge costs, including compensation to Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamin.
Former 60 Minutes executive producer and now head of Nine sport, Tom Malone (left), who commissioned the story. New EP Kirsty Thomson (right) was chief of staff when the Lebanon story was approved
Nine Network’s review of the failed ‘recovery’ of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s (pictured) two children has been completed and made public on Friday
The budget for 60 Minutes has reportedly been cut after the report on Sally Faulkner’s broken family incurred huge costs, including compensation to Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamin (pictured centre) with children Lahela (right) and Noah (left)
60 Minutes staff admitted to ‘some soul searching’ since the botched story and conceded mistakes had been made in the abduction of Sally Faulkner’s children.
The botched child recovery operation in Lebanon left four 60 Minutes employees facing kidnapping charges.
Tara Brown was arrested alongside senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment.
The in-house review was made public on Friday.
THE 13 RECOMMENDATIONS OF AN INTERNAL REVIEW INTO THE 60 MINUTES DEBACLE IN LEBANON
The review panel does not recommend that any staff member should be singled out for dismissal given the degree of autonomy accorded to 60 Minutes. However, it recommends that management censure, in the strongest terms, those most directly involved in the events
Approval of stories
Tara Brown is bundled into a police car in Beirut
The Executive Producer of 60 Minutes should approve all stories on the basis of a precise, written briefing on the nature of the 60 Minutes team’s proposed activities and the extent of reliance on third parties, to implement the story, before any contract is signed relating to the story or any material steps are taken to commission the story.
The Director of News & Current Affairs should approve any story requiring overseas travel or any stories which are rated as ‘high risk’
The Executive Producer of 60 Minutes should be given a precise, written briefing on any material changes which occur to the proposed scope of activities of the 60 Minutes team or the reliance on third parties over the course of developing and producing a story.
The Executive Producer of 60 Minutes needs express authority to cancel a story at any time (even during filming) if it is considered that the risks of proceeding with the story outweigh the benefits of proceeding.
An objective framework for assessing risk relating to stories needs to be developed, based on Nine’s existing safe work procedures. The risks to be considered include location, security, proposed activities of the 60 Minutes team (eg risk of injury), possible effects on the reputation of Nine, financial cost, risk of legal or regulatory action, and public interest in the story
That framework must be applied to any stories which 60 Minutes is proposing, to identify whether further risk assessment and risk management is required.
Nine should obtain appropriate external risk assessment advice on any proposed activities:
Nine should ensure that its training plan includes risk assessment techniques to assist producers and other relevant team members in identifying the ‘red flags’ which should be investigated further, before proceeding with a story.
Sally Faulkner and Tara Brown walk from free from prison in Beirut on April 20
Approval of contracts
Nine’s Delegation of Authority Policy should be reviewed and, if considered appropriate, amended, to clearly specify the appropriate dollar value thresholds that apply to the Director of News & Current Affairs and Executive Producers.
Nine should educate all relevant staff on the level of delegated authority which is held by different categories of staff members, and who is authorised to sign particular types of contracts.
Any payments to third parties (i.e. not the party to the contract) should be approved by the Executive Producer and the Director of News & Current Affairs, after consultation with the legal team. The producer must provide details of the 60 Minutes team’s planned activities, to allow others to make an informed decision on this issue.
Nine needs to consider further the steps required to ensure that all staff at 60 Minutes feel empowered to express their concerns (e.g. to safety or reputation) about participating in a story or about 60 Minutes producing a story.
Nine needs to encourage open communication across the whole 60 Minutes team about the stories which are being planned and risks which should be considered, so that there is a better culture of risk consciousness and risk management
Former executive producer Tom Malone, who is now head of sport, commissioned the story and Kirsty Thomson, who was chief of staff when it was approved, is now EP of the program.
The ratings are also causing concern, with a loss of 19 per cent of the audience compared to figures at this time last year. The show dropped more than 200,000 viewers in 2015, down from 2014’s 1,207,000 and averages about 790,000 viewers a show.
This comes as 60 Minutes producers admit they are struggling with a lack of stories as the team behind the botched child retrieval have remained on leave since their return from Beirut.
Veteran reporter Tara Brown pictured with producer Stephen Rice on arrival in Sydney on April 21 – she has returned to work at Channel Nine’s Willoughby studios while Mr Rice has been sacked from the Nine Network after 32 years
The board has responded to an internal review over the 60 minutes crisis in Lebanon last month which cost the network over $1 million and saw the news crew detained in a Beirut prison for two weeks