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Affair of Channel Seven's CEO exposes mixed societal mores

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Friday, 13 January 2017


The public always loves a salacious scandal, in part because such titillation provides a bit of comic relief from our own more mundane lives.  Scandals always require some element of moral outrage.  To the religious it might be the affront caused by the sin of adultery and indulgence in illicit pleasures.  To the more secular, any outrage concerning extra-marital affairs more commonly is about broken commitments to spouse and family, abuse of position by powerful men, or hypocrisy by perpetrators (especially those who publicly trumpet their "family values").

The other side of the coin, however, is that those whose private lives are placed in the public spotlight against their wishes, can suffer great embarrassment.  Such has been the fate of  Tim Worner, Channel Seven CEO, whose private life has been sprayed all over the media. 

The affair became public when Mr Worner's former lover, Amber Harrison, detailed claims that she and Mr Worner had engaged in cocaine-fuelled sexual encounters, some of which allegedly took place following work events.  When the affair began, Ms Harrison, then 35, was the "highly-ranked executive assistant"to the CEO of Seven West's magazines.  The affair reportedly ran from the end of 2012 until June 2014, and the media have sought to rationalise it using almost every possible stereotype. 

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The scandal became an absolute doozy, largely because Ms Harrison on 18 December 2016 issued a press release (currently posted in full on the Web) publicising extensive details of the affair.  According to the press release: “We started flirting, and soon after Tim began texting and emailing me for sex,”Ms Harrison said, revealing the pair would meet for sex at her Sydney apartment.  “I knew he was married.  It was never about love.  It was about sex and power.  He likes having a bit on the side.  I found our relationship, if you’d call it that, thrilling to begin with.”

The blog publicising Ms Harrison's statement goes on to describe it as "a powerful read on how some people abuse their positions of authority to satisfy their sexual needs".  The blog quotes a number of (R-rated) texts from Mr Worner containing "some crude content, which he has not denied".   Ms Harrison also alleged that Mr Worner (then in his early 50s) had four other affairs with Channel Seven staff members. The claims have been denied by Mr Worner and the women.  The blog also claims that Ms Harrison only went public "after becoming frustrated by three failed attempts over two years at negotiating a settlement".

According to a report in Fairfax, Channel Seven subsequently took "an Australian blogger" to Court in a bid to protect two of its high profile network stars.  Seven also launched defamation proceedings against the blogger in the NSW Supreme Court because his website published the names of two of the women ( a well-known actress and an on-air presenter). 

It is also reported that in August 2014 Ms Harrison was paid $100,000 hush-money and agreed to "blowtorch"the iPhone she used to exchange texts, later delivering damaged pieces to Seven West representatives.  She also claims the company in November 2014 agreed to pay her $350,000 after she was made redundant but Seven never paid.  “All they had to do was stick to the deal,” she told journalists. “This is not about me trying to be famous and it’s not about me trying to sell my story".  Seven, however, says it is entitled to withhold payment for "noncompliance with the settlement deed" (code for not keeping quiet, as required?). 

Ms Harrison had earlier complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) alleging bullying, victimisation and harassment at Seven but failed to progress her case.  Channel 9 reported that Ms Harrison was allegedly warned she would become "Australia’s Monica Lewinsky" and lose her job, if she refused hush money.

Essentially, the Worner affair is a repeat of the age old story of powerful men attracting women, and subsequently (often along with their lover) being damaged, if not brought down, by their sexual antics being made public.  It raises questions about the mores that apply or ought to apply to the sexual indiscretions of individuals. 

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Let's start with the response of the media and the issue of the public's right to know.

Former PM, Paul Keating, (while enraged at media intrusion following his divorce) stated that ''Matters for which there is no public right to know ought to be the preserve of the citizenry in its privacy,''....''That includes details of their personal lives, altercations in marriages, love affairs, compromising photographs taken of them privately without their consent. These are all matters that should be off limits for newspapers and other media.''

News Limited's then CEO, John Hartigan expressed a contrary view, noting that ''What we have now is a man calling for a new law so that people like him can use their wealth, power and privileged positions to avoid scrutiny when it suits them, while remaining happy to exploit the media for their own gain at other times.''

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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