Lisa Wilkinson WINS battle with Network Ten as judge sides with Project star in dramatic decision: ‘Entirely appropriate’

Network Ten’s CEO Bev McGarvey was concerned about Lisa Wilkinson’s state of mind after a five-hour recorded meeting was leaked in June.

The meeting was between Wilkinson, producer of The Project Angus Llewellyn, Brittany Higgins and her boyfriend David Sharaz in a Sydney hotel room on January 27, 2021.

The purpose of the discussion was to decide how best to approach Ms Higgins’ forthcoming interview on The Project, which aired just weeks later in February.

The recording was leaked to the media last year and featured on Seven’s Spotlight program.

Emails between network bosses have been revealed in the affidavit of Ten’s senior litigation counsel Tasha Smithies, tendered in the Federal Court on Monday in Wilkinson’s civil case against Network Ten.

According to Ms Smithies’ affidavit, Ms McGarvey forwarded her an email that she sent to Wilkinson’s agent, Nick Fordham, on June 7, 2023.

Ms McGarvey said: ‘I have just spoken to Lisa to check in to see how she was given how challenging it has been for her this week.’

‘As you are well aware she is really not in a great place, and I hope she is taking some professional mental health care? Let me know if she is not currently obtaining ongoing professional support, and we can assist in providing her access to our independent, confidential support services.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos FEBRUARY 13, 2024: Tasha Smithies the senior litigation lawyer for network 10 pictured leaving  federal court, Sydney CBD. Bruce Lehrmann defamation case against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson. Returning to court for Wilkinson's claim against Ten to pay her legal bills. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

‘I explained that we are doing all we can do within the confines of the law to deal with the situation around the Spotlight story. I am not sure she was across that. Maybe she was but has a lot on her plate.’

Ms McGarvey acknowledged Wilkinson was ‘very upset’ by the media reports, but said: ‘Of course, we simply cannot make them stop.’

The CEO then said Wilkinson was frustrated because the network didn’t tell her when she was going to be on the front page of The Australian newspaper, but said the network was not aware in advance of publication.

‘I just wanted to let you know we are concerned for her state of mind and appreciate this is difficult for her, noting that Ten’s lawyers are taking all the actions in response to the fallout from the Spotlight story that are legally available given the restraints of the current defamation proceedings.’

A week later, Ms McGarvey forwarded Ms Smithies another email to Mr Fordham, asking for an update on Wilkinson’s mental health.

‘Can you please come back to me on the note I sent last week on how Lisa is doing; we are concerned about the strain these last few weeks are putting on her mental health,’ she said.

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‘As you know, I spoke with Lisa last week and did not feel she was in a great place, given all the ongoing coverage our primary concern before we start talking about other projects is that Lisa is well enough to work.’

In court on Monday, the network argued that Wilkinson’s legal fees, worth more than $700,000, were unreasonable and should not be covered by the network.

In Ms McGarvey’s email to Mr Fordham on June 7 last year, she noted that Wilkinson had mentioned her legal fees, and was ‘alarmed by the amount’.

Wilkinson hired Sue Chrysanthou SC to defend her at a Board of Inquiry into the way Bruce Lehrmann’s criminal case was handled, and then again at Mr Lehrmann’s defamation case against her and the network last year.

Ms Chrysanthou reportedly charges about $11,000 per day.

Ms McGarvey told Mr Fordham the network would have preferred Wilkinson to hire someone else, but agreed to cover her costs.

She wrote: ‘We objected at the outset to Lisa’s choice of counsel but have nevertheless confirmed that we will reimburse Lisa for those legal costs incurred by her that Ten is required to reimburse.

‘As you know, these arrangements are in discussion between external lawyers who are best placed to resolve the full extent of Ten’s obligations.’