Peter Costello resigns as Nine Entertainment chairman

Peter Costello has resigned from his position as chairman of Nine Entertainment, just days after an ugly incident at Canberra airport in which a journalist trying to interview him ended up sprawled on the ground.

The former federal treasurer announced his resignation on Sunday evening after a board meeting on Friday afternoon.

Mr Costello will be succeeded by Catherine West, a former Sky UK executive and current deputy chairman of Nine.

“After nearly 11 years on the Board of Nine Entertainment Company (NEC) and more than eight years as Chairman, I had announced my intention to step down from the Board sometime after the Olympic Games in July and no later than the Annual General Meeting in November,” said Costello.

“I have informed the Board of the NEC today that I will bring forward this date, step down as Chairman and resign as a Director.

“Vice Chair Catherine West has worked closely with the executive search firm and is ideally placed to lead the company and complete the board replacement process.

Mr Costello, the father of Nine reporter Seb Costello, said the board had “provided support throughout the events of the last month and particularly the last few days”.

“The new chairman will need the full support of all directors as there is fierce rivalry in this industry,” he said.

“I do not appreciate attacks from a commercial rival. The threat to this industry comes from outside, from trillion-dollar technology companies competing for its business. Standing still or hoping to keep doing things the way they are is not an option.”

“Mr. Sneesby always had my full support as CEO.”

Nine has been embroiled in drama for weeks after it emerged that former news director Darren Wick received a $1 million severance package despite some staff raising concerns about his conduct.

“The company has a robust process in place to investigate past complaints, which has my full support. I am confident it will get to the bottom of any unknown issues,” said Mr Costello.

Mr Costello concluded with a “note to journalists”.

“I will not be giving any interviews or making any further comments on any issues this weekend, so there is no need to stand guard outside my house,” he complained.

Mr Costello has denied shoving his shirt in journalist Liam Mendes’ face and throwing him to the ground during a wild doorway interview.

Australia’s longest-serving finance minister refused to answer reporter’s questions on Thursday afternoon and later claimed the reporter had fallen while walking backwards.

But witnesses compared the former Liberal deputy leader’s stature to that of a “sumo wrestler” after the 6ft 4in former MP came very close to reporter Liam Mendes, who works for The Australian newspaper.

In footage of the incident, he is questioned about the matter at Mendes airport. Mr Costello says “good to see you” to a passerby before looming over the reporter’s camera.

“No, no,” says the reporter before falling backwards.

The journalist then fell backwards to the ground, his legs in the air, while the camera continued to roll.

Mr. Costello, standing over Mendes, then turns and walks away while the reporter lies on the ground.

In a statement to the ASX, Nine confirmed that Mr Costello had resigned as Chairman and would also resign from the Board with immediate effect. Nine also confirmed that Catherine West had been appointed Chair of the NEC.

“The Board would like to thank Mr Costello for his contribution to Nine over more than a decade, including eight years as Chairman,” it said.

“As Chairman, he has always put the needs of the company first and his decision to step down and pass the baton of leadership of Nine at this time is consistent with that

Approach.”

Ms West said: “The Board recognises that the events of the last few weeks have been extremely difficult and destabilising for our staff and other stakeholders. We are committed to ensuring that the issues are appropriately addressed through our cultural review and other measures we announced last week.”

2GB morning presenter Ray Hadley said Nine’s chairman had “refused to answer the reporter’s questions relating to the ongoing harassment scandal at the company”.

“On the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, an organisation owned by the same interests, he rejects suggestions that he should resign,” Hadley said on his morning program.

“Look, I know what would happen to me if I bumped my shoulder into someone trying to interrogate me somewhere. You wouldn’t hear the end of it.

“But from a company’s perspective, it’s not really a good thing for the CEO to be accused, let alone to have acted in the way he is accused.”

Opposition leader Peter Dutton had previously stated that the former Liberal leader did not have “such an aggressive spirit in his body”.

In an interview with Channel 9, Mr Dutton said he had been “a friend of mine for over 20 years”.

“First of all, I don’t know Liam, but he is obviously an excellent journalist,” Mr Dutton said.

“And the most important thing is that I hope he is well.

“Secondly, to be honest, I’m probably not the right person to ask because Peter has been a friend of mine for over 20 years and I’ve never experienced active aggression from him. There are obviously other camera angles that I haven’t seen.

“But the Peter Costello I know is someone who does not have the slightest aggressive character and I hope that the matter can be resolved amicably. And then we will move on.”

Speaking on Sunrise, Education Minister Jason Clare and Liberal Party deputy leader Sussan Ley said the details of the incident were unclear.

“The journalist said it happened and Mr Costello said it didn’t happen,” Mr Clare said.

“I’m sure the airport has surveillance footage. It’s questionable whether they will release it or make it available to the police.”

The Nine chairman was in the nation’s capital to attend the opening of Nine’s newly refurbished Canberra office from the press gallery.

Mr Costello told reporters in Parliament House that any suggestion he should resign was “nonsense” and that he had “not lifted a finger” at the reporter.

“As I was walking past him, he ran into an advertising poster and fell down. I didn’t hit him. If he’s upset about it, I’m sorry. But I didn’t hit him,” Costello told Nine.

“I wasn’t angry. Just like you guys here, if you’re reversing and there’s a poster behind you, you can run into it. I’ve seen it a million times, I’ve seen it here in the Parliament building a million times, reporters reversing into the bollards and falling over,” he said.

“It wasn’t an attack. Like I said, he was walking backwards. He hit an advertising billboard. I didn’t lift a finger or a fist or anything,” he said.

Speaking on Nine, former finance minister Wayne Swan said Mr Costello was “no shy wallflower”.

“Well, in public life you are under pressure from time to time and you just have to keep a cool head,” he said.

“Now there is an argument about whether he was pushed or shoved or whatever, but you know, when you are a senior minister, when you are at the head of a major public enterprise, particularly one that does quality journalism, you have to be very careful how you behave.

“But he’s not a shy little violet. He’s invested a lot of time and you just have to use it.”

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