News, Culture & Society

Leave Lisa Wilkinson alone: Channel 10 lash out over the treatment of TV star

Channel Ten has lashed out at the media’s treatment of Lisa Wilkinson as the fallout from her controversial speech escalates.

The Project co-host is under heavy fire after she mentioned alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins in her speech moments after winning the Outstanding News Coverage Logie award for her one-of-one interview with the former ministerial staffer in 2021. 

She has cancelled all her appearances on The Project this week and there are calls for the media veteran to be shown the door by Network 10, adding to the pile-on from current and former colleagues, rivals and public commentators calling for Wilkinson to be axed.

‘Recent reporting on Lisa Wilkinson by some media organisations has been inaccurate and unfair,’ a spokesperson for Channel 10 said.

‘There are significant facts that cannot be disclosed until after the trial has concluded.

‘This reporting is now causing significant harm and we ask these organisations to cease this harassment to allow Lisa the best opportunity to give her evidence in court and to enable the trial to go ahead in a fair and timely manner’.

Network 10 host Lisa Wilkinson (above) was absent from The Project’s panel on Thursday night following her controversial Logies acceptance speech

Wilkinson's speech reportedly contributed to delaying Higgins's trial against former political staffer Bruce Lehrmann by prejudicing potential jurors

Wilkinson’s speech reportedly contributed to delaying Higgins’s trial against former political staffer Bruce Lehrmann by prejudicing potential jurors

Ms Higgins (above) will face Bruce Lehrmann in court on October 4 after accusing him of raping her in Parliament House in 2019

Ms Higgins (above) will face Bruce Lehrmann in court on October 4 after accusing him of raping her in Parliament House in 2019

‘We are closely monitoring all coverage of this issue and Lisa and Network 10 reserve their rights in respect of any future defamation claims.

‘Network 10 continues to fully support Lisa in her ongoing and full commitment to doing the right thing as a witness in the trial.’

Wilkinson’s speech reportedly contributed to delaying Higgins’s trial against former political staffer Bruce Lehrmann by prejudicing potential jurors.

Lehrmann is accused of raping Ms Higgins in Parliament House in 2019.

He denies these claims and stated in a police interview that he did not have sex with Ms Higgins.

Wilkinson's speech reportedly contributed to delaying the trial between Brittany Higgins and alleged rapist Bruce Lehrmann (above)

Wilkinson’s speech reportedly contributed to delaying the trial between Brittany Higgins and alleged rapist Bruce Lehrmann (above)

On Thursday the ACT Supreme Court set a new date of October 4 for the trial.

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum decided on Tuesday to delay the trial ‘regrettably and with gritted teeth’ because ‘somewhere in this debate, the distinction between an untested allegation and the fact of guilt has been lost’.

She noted public interest in the case needed to die down before Lehrmann would have access to a fair jury.

On Thursday morning Lehrmann’s defence barrister Steve Whybrow applied for the trial to be delayed further, until the beginning of next year.

‘My application would be, to the extent that the bush fire is still burning in effect, that the trial commence early next year because we would like there to be no further issues and delays,’ he told the court.

‘We can foresee the possibility that there may be collateral matters that need to be investigated relating to the circumstances that have led to the trial being vacated.’

Wilkinson (left) has been criticised for her acceptance speech for the Outstanding News Coverage Logie award for her one-of-one interview with the former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins (right)

Wilkinson (left) has been criticised for her acceptance speech for the Outstanding News Coverage Logie award for her one-of-one interview with the former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins (right)

Justice McCallum denied his application and said: ‘The publicity this week has focused sharply on the very fact that was being overlooked, that a man is facing trial and he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.’

Higgins’s Crown prosecutor Shane Drumgold agreed with Justice McCallum’s decision, noting the 102-day delay was more generous than that given in similar cases.

Mr Drumgold also announced on Thursday he was seeking written undertakings by the end of the day from Network 10, Wilkinson and the owners of Sydney radio station WSFM that they would no longer commentate on the trial.

The written agreement would also see the three parties agree that any future comments could be in the contempt of court.

Mr Drumgold said if the undertaking were not made by Network 10, Wilkinson and WSFM then he would seek an injunction to stop future public comment.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is unable to confirm whether the undertakings were made.

Mr Drumgold also said five books currently being written – from authors including Sydney Morning Herald columnist Niki Savva, News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden and Ten’s political editor Peter van Onselen – may comment on the case.

Justice McCallum said publishers should remember Lehrmann is yet to be proven guilty in a court of law.

‘Even a discussion of workplace culture has to dance a delicate dance,’ she said.

‘If the issue is the treatment of an allegation, it’s very difficult to have that debate without commenting on appropriate treatment on the assumed premise that the allegation is true.’

Network 10 announced on Wednesday it hired high-profile lawyer Matthew Collins on behalf of the Network and Wilkinson just hours after Dr Collins criticised Wilkinson’s speech on rival Chanel Seven’s Sunrise morning show.

 ‘It’s certainly possible that the authorities will be looking at the speech she made to the Logies and assessing (whether) that speech went against the standard which applies in this branch of the law,’ Dr Collins said.

‘That standard is, did anything that she did have a tendency to interfere with the administration of justice?’

It is unclear if Wilkinson will be charged with contempt of court but it is understood that she should have been made aware of any consequences by the close of business on Thursday.

Wilkinson and Network 10 have since sent an urgent letter to the judge offering to stop talking about the case altogether.

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