John Westacott, the Nine Network’s Head of News and Current Affairs, has faced accusations of offensive, sexist behavior in the workplace against female journalists. The claims were made by former reporter and Los Angeles correspondent Christine Spiteri, who left the network last month after being told that “with a name like [hers]”, “you should try SBS”.
Further allegations, made by another former reporter at Nine, indicated that they were the type of comments regularly made at the network. It is believed that the hearing, expected to begin this week, will also hear that Westacott told female staff they would only succeed in television if they had “f***ability”, and tha they should rarely be seen on the news bulletins covering the top stories.
The news boss has also been accused of saying the “newsroom was no place for women” and that to land an on-air role females had to be “blonde”. The accusations that he made the comments are part of a complaint that will be lodged with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission this week.
Management’s decision to fight the Spiteri case conflicts the network’s usual stance of giving large payouts to past staff for their silence. Tara Brown, a reporter with 60 Minutes appointed by Westacott, defended her boss: “I’ve worked with John Westacott for 15 years. He might be many things but I’ve never found him to be sexist”.
Sandra Cleary, senior producer for 60 Minutes said: “I’ve worked with John for 12 years and, as a single mum, enjoyed enormous support and encouragement”.
The claims follow the loss of two other female presenters at the network this week – sport presenter Stephanie Brantz left the network after being dropped from the network’s cricket coverage, while A Current Affair reporter Majella Wiemers – filling in as weather presenter on the Afternoon Edition and 6pm Sydney news, as well as Nightline while Jaynie Seal took maternity leave – did not have her contract renewed.
Spiteri has been on maternity leave following the birth of her first child, Ethan, which was due to end in January. Herald Sun sources at the network indicate that the mother had demanded a prime-time newsreading job for which she was underqualified and was “using the media” to negotiate a better deal.