Tonight Australian time the 60 Minutes crew and Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner will be back in court before Judge Rami Adbullah, but if media reports are accurate the situation looks grim.
Several stories suggest talks between Faulkner and her estranged-husband Ali Elamine have halted, with the father no longer negotiating. Sydney Morning Herald says her lawyer will attempt bail at today’s hearing.
The Herald Sun reports “chief planner” Adam Whittington will present documentary evidence that Channel Nine accounts department paid him in two internet transfers of funds: the first for 40 percent of the agreed fee of more than $115,000, and then a second for the remaining 60 percent several months ago.
News Corp also reports Nine executives have now started to question the level of authority senior producers have over budgets and are considering an overhaul of autonomy and risk management.
Last night Ross Coulthart told Nine viewers: “60 Minutes has been featured in the news a lot over the last week because four members of our team remain in police custody in Beirut, Lebanon.
“They were detained while filming a news story on a child custody battle. We want you to know that every possible effort is being made to ensure our team’s well-being as they go through the legal process.
“We are working relentlessly to bring them home and we acknowledge the strong support of their families in helping us do that.
“Before the next court appearance, scheduled tomorrow, my colleague Tara Brown tells us she is being well treated in a women’s detention centre.
“Stephen Rice, the producer on the story, is detained separately with cameraman Ben Williamson, and sound recordist David Ballment.
“And there’s Sally Faulkner, a mum from Brisbane who was trying to retrieve her two young children.
“They’ve been held now for 11 days, but are said to be in good spirits and coping very well.
“It’s a nerve-wracking time for them all and of course for their families waiting for news at home. We’ve been doing our very best to keep them informed of every development.
“The Nine Network is very grateful to the authorities in Lebanon for the respect shown to our crew and we acknowledge the untiring efforts of diplomatic staff in Beirut and in Canberra.
“We’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.”
60 Minutes provided no comment on questions of financing the actions of a ‘child recovery agency.’
Statements by Nine presenters personalise the 4 Nine crew amid suggestions they are losing the PR battle.
Karl Stefanovic said in a statement, “Tara is a friend. She is a colleague. She is a mother. She is a brilliant journalist. She has asked those questions over and over again. She has consistently broken stories, and forensically exposed wrong doing in society all around the world. She has religiously and without favour fought for the truth.”
“The Family Court has taken the extraordinary step in this case of releasing the fact that an order was made last December in relation to the children, in favour of the mother,” he says, adding: “I’ll let you read between the lines on what detail might be contained within that order.
“The courts will decide our dear colleagues fate. I hope the public can be patient.”
Tracy Grimshaw writes a lengthy piece for The Australian, with colourful memories of the crew’s previous assignments, noting everything from their long hours to their favourite foods.
“So you’ve no doubt figured out by now this is not going to be a reasoned, impartial analysis of what happened over there, and why, and how. That’s not my case to make. It’s for a Lebanese court to decide and I’ll be following the proceedings with my heart in my mouth and my fingers crossed,” she wrote.
“But I am volunteering to be a character witness for them, starting here. And frankly after some of the malicious, ill-considered, rabidly self serving and in some cases manufactured rubbish that has been written and said about our friends in the past week, I think it’s time you heard something different.”
Peter Stefanovic and Tom Steinfort have also posted social media photos and memories with crew members Ben Williamson and David ‘Tangles’ Ballment respectively.
Family members in Australia also released a statement denying they were not being kept informed by Nine.
“People forget that Tara, Stephen, Ben and Tangles were there doing a job; covering a story. As it turns out, a very important story. It’s what they do. It’s what they have been doing brilliantly for years.
“Obviously, this time, something went wrong. But if we have one message it’s that people who have been so quick to judge should at least wait until all the facts are known. We haven’t spoken to our partners since before they were arrested. Very few of the facts are clear at this stage. If we don’t have all the facts, how can anyone else? The analysis can come later. Right now, the only priority is getting them all home,” it said in part.
Meanwhile while observers wonder how Nine will respond to the saga, the Australian Financial Review even speculates the nwtwork could jettison 60 Minutes in its entirety, noting the whopping $15m budget that the show consumes.