27 May 2016

60 Minutes producer resigns following investigation

9:10 pm on 27 May 2016

60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice is leaving the Nine Network following an investigation into the program's botched child abduction attempt in Lebanon.

The Nine Network today released its report into the bungled child recovery.

A statement from Nine said Mr Rice, the producer of the story about Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner and her bid to return her children to Australia, would leave the company immediately.

Australian TV reporter Tara Brown is escorted from a Lebanese courtroom.

Australian TV reporter Tara Brown is escorted from a Lebanese courtroom. Photo: AFP

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said the recovery operation exposed the crew to "serious risks" and "significant reputational damage".

"We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences," Mr Marks said.

"Amongst other elements of the execution of this story it was inappropriate, and at odds with our standard procedure, for a payment to be made directly by 60 Minutes to the recovery agency that had been independently contracted by Sally Faulkner.

"It was also inappropriate, with the risks involved for our crew, not to have consulted with Nine's security advisers before the story was finalised."

Mr Marks said the company would improve its processes related to story selection and approval.

"We have an obligation to our staff, our shareholders and our viewers to operate in ways that enhance our reputation as a leading producer of news and current affairs," he said.

"We also accept a broader obligation to get our judgement calls right regarding what stories we pursue, and how we pursue them."

Other staff involved in the planning and execution of the story received formal warnings.

The independent review was conducted by the founder and former producer of 60 Minutes, Gerald Stone, former producer and senior executive at Nine, David Hurley, and the company's general counsel, Rachel Launders.

Journalists 'failed to ask basic questions'

Mr Stone this afternoon said staff involved in the story had been "complacent".

"There's no doubt about it, there were questions that should've been asked, basic questions that experienced journalists would normally ask and they simply weren't," he said.

"One of the things that struck me was how lucky that program has been, because [60 Minutes] has always been prepared to take risks that come with what I like to think of as cutting-edge TV journalism.

"But we always try to keep the risk in relation to the situations involved, and I think this time they got to the stage where - after 37 years of never having a major disaster - [they] were simply too complacent."

Australian TV presenter Tara Brown (back) and Sally Faulkner, an Australian woman accused of abducting her children from her ex husband, are released from prison on April 20, 2016

Australian TV presenter Tara Brown (back) and Sally Faulkner are released from prison in Beirut. Photo: AFP

He said the crucial error was staff's failure to ask what would happen "if it goes wrong".

"And that question was never asked, they never even asked 'well what is the penalty for being alleged to be involved in the kidnapping in Lebanon?'," Mr Stone said.

"Nobody ever bothered to ask that question."

He defended Nine's decision not to dismiss senior staff.

"That is strictly a management decision … our committee did not recommend dismissals," he said.

"We'd rather have the people learn from their mistakes, but management has a perfect right to make that kind of decision."

"[The review shows] they didn't ask whether they were going to be involved in committing a crime, they didn't ask if they were encouraging Sally Faulkner and the child recovery team to commit a crime, they didn't ask what would happen if it went wrong, what would be the damage to Nine's reputation and the decision seems to have been taken within the program and not referred upwards," he said.

"There seems to be a problem of lack of management control at Nine."

Lebanese father Ali al-Amin, whose ex-wife tried to abduct their children from him, talks to the press as he leaves the court in Baabda northeast of Beirut on 20 April 20.

The children's Lebanese father Ali al-Amin Photo: AFP

The Nine crew, including reporter Tara Brown and Brisbane mother Ms Faulkner, were held in detention for nearly two weeks after being accused of being involved in an operation with a child recovery team to snatch Ms Faulkner's children from her estranged husband Ali Elamine in Beirut.

Four others allegedly involved in the scandal remain in a prison in Tripoli in Lebanon's north.

Former Australian soldier Adam Whittington and the three others faced a Lebanon court last week where investigating judge Ramy Abdullah denied their application for bail.

The case is now back in the hands of the general prosecutor who must refer it to a trial court, which could take months.

The group's lawyers have said the television program hired them to snatch the children of Ms Faulkner and her estranged husband Ali Elamine, off a Beirut street.

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