The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has accused Mr Mitchell and Mr Healy of breaching their duties by inappropriately helping Seven to win the tennis rights over other potential bidders. Seven secured the rights to broadcast the Open in 2013 for $195 million. Nine, the owner of this masthead, is the current owner of the rights.
The straight-talking media executive and lawyer also cracked a few jokes – mainly at his own expense – during his time in the witness box, including responding when asked if he was a lawyer, “yes, but not a very good one”.
He also made frequent references to beloved ABC Children’s TV show Mr Squiggle character Blackboard who would often cry ‘hurry up, hurry up’ to express Seven’s view during the negotiations that a deal needed to be done quickly.
Mr McWilliam spent the afternoon under cross examination by Mr Mitchell’s counsel Matthew Collins, QC, where he was taken through emails from Mr McWilliam to various people including to Seven executives which ASIC says proves Mr Mitchell was acting inappropriately.
During the hearing, Dr Collins took Mr McWilliam to an email from him to Seven representatives which said: “Harold assures us all will be okay”.
“What did Harold say to cause you to write to [Seven chairman Kerry] Mr Stokes?” Dr Collins asked.
Mr McWilliam said he had been assured by Mr Mitchell because of the increasingly tense relationship with Tennis Australia boss Steve Wood who was not satisfied with Seven’s early offers for the rights.
“We did appear to be experiencing a little bit of pushback from the chief executive Steve Wood,” Mr McWilliam said.
Dr Collins then asked: “Did Mr Mitchell provide you some sort of assurance that he would be able to deliver the rights.”
“He was trying to keep us bidding,” Mr McWilliam said.
Mr McWilliam also told the court that Seven had “lived in the deluded hope that sports rights would go down”.
Dr Collins asked him why he had not waited given the financial pressure on the broadcasting industry at the time due to the drop off in advertising spend.
“Good point, but I am impatient and insecure,” Mr McWilliam said.
Counsel for ASIC, Michael Pearce, SC, cross examined Mr McWilliam for the final 25 minutes of Thursday’s hearing, including the closeness between Mr Mitchell and Mr Stokes. Mr McWilliam said Mr Mitchell and Mr Stokes had a close relationship.
Mr Pearce’s cross examination of Mr McWilliam will continue through most of Friday’s hearing. The case continues.
Sarah Danckert is a business reporter.