Seven’s CEO, the always colourful David Leckie, took the stand today in the case against former employee James Warburton.
Seven is trying to enforce Warburton’s contractual obligations to the network which would prevent him from starting as TEN’s new CEO until October 2012.
Warburton’s lawyer, John West QC, questioned Leckie over conversations he had with Warburton, with particular reference to a likely takeover of Seven Media Group by West Australian Newspapers.
Leckie is set to be CEO of the newly formed Seven West should the $4.1b takeover be approved by Perth newspaper group’s shareholders today. Warburton had been offered the job of running television for the combined group but doubted he would have any power under Leckie.
West alleged that Leckie greeted Warburton at the start of a meeting with the words: “Here comes Mr Ambitious. I’ve been kicked into touch. I’ve been retired. How sad.”
But Leckie told the court that in the “rough and tumble of television you say these sort of things”.
He also denied that he resented the new Seven West position.
“I was looking forward to it…if the Seven West deal goes through it is going to be a truly exciting thing to run. The largest listed media company in the country. That’s a pretty cool thing to run,” he said.
West then claimed that Leckie said of the WAN board: “I’ll fix them right up. It will take me five minutes to fix the idiots on the WAN board. They are dopes. They wouldn’t know anything about television. They do not even know how to put a paper together. They just do what Kerry (Stokes, Chairman) tells them.”
Leckie denied the allegations.
Asked if he told Warburton he was free to take the TEN job he said, “Why would I do that?
“I’m not very bright but I’m not stupid.”
West said Leckie did not want to relinquish control of Channel Seven’s television operations and that he had told Warburton, “I will still call the shots”.
“(Mr Warburton) said to you, “mate, unless I have your honest support there is no point, so I might as well piss off,”West asked.
“He might have said that,” Leckie replied.
Meanwhile the takeover of SMG was a done deal in Perth today after 63% of proxy votes were cast in favour of the deal, despite some shareholders questioning the move.
“Given the proxies and the number of votes on the floor, it’s obvious that it will be approved with a substantial majority when the votes are counted,” Kerry Stokes said.
The case against Warburton continues.