Unmade: media and marketing analysis
Unmade: media and marketing analysis
'It would have been annihilation' Nick McKenzie on Nine's high stakes defamation battle with Ben Roberts-Smith

'It would have been annihilation' Nick McKenzie on Nine's high stakes defamation battle with Ben Roberts-Smith

Welcome to an audio-led edition of Unmade.

Today’s edition features an interview with one of Australia’s most storied investigative journalists, Nine’s Nick McKenzie. It coincides with the publication of McKenzie’s book about disgraced SAS soldier Ben Roberts-Smith.

And further down, a mixed day on The Unmade Index.

The only way to access Unmade’s content archive and Tuesdata analysis is to be a paying member. Membership also provides discounts on tickets to our events, including next week’s AI-focused conference humAIn.

‘We would have lost our reputations. There’s every chance we would have lost our careers’ How Nine took on BRS

Masters (left) and McKenzie address the press after beating BRS | Nine Now

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s Nick McKenzie is one of Australia’s most acclaimed investigate journalists. With 14 Walkley Awards and a stint as president of the Melbourne Press Club under his belt, McKenzie’s latest battle had the highest possible stakes - with the future of investigative journalism in Australia and indeed his own career on the line.

The investigative reporting of McKenzie and colleague Chris Masters into the misconduct of Ben Roberts-Smith and other Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan resulted in the most significant defamation battle in at least two decades.

McKenzie’s book on the Ben Roberts-Smith saga, Crossing The Line, has now been published.

In conversation with Unmade’s Tim Burrowes, McKenzie discusses the realities of the investigative process, what it was like battling a formerly lauded Anzac war hero in courtrooms over the last five years and the personal toll it took.

“It’s a miracle that we won this case because the law is geared to favour applicants, it’s geared to favour rich people suing journalists,” McKenzie says.

“Knowing that the weight of law and precedent is against you, and knowing how hard it is to prove war crimes in a civil court, it was unbelievably stressful. To contest this case, we had to keep digging through evidence and information, we could never rest.”

The fight was also on company lines, with BRS, who was until recently employed as GM of Seven Queensland, being funded in the case by Seven West Media proprietor Kerry Stokes.

McKenzie decries the tribalism of Australian media. “That tribalism and competitiveness exists in all companies. The ABC’s at war with commercial media, commercial media’s at war with itself, everyone is fighting. That’s partly a function of there being some unpleasant people, but it’s also a commercial reality. We’re all fighting for our commercial lives - it’s a tough environment out there, there’s a limited ad market, there are fierce contest for sporting rights, there is literally commercial war at play.”

Masters and McKenzie at Victoria State Library | 60 Minutes

McKenzie undertook much of his work alongside his long-time ‘mentor’ - investigative reporter Chris Masters of the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Chris Masters and I endured a very difficult process. We were there for each other through that process,” McKenzie says.

“It’s not to say there wasn’t tension in the relationship; we’re two very different journalists with different ways of reporting. But that camaraderie and us applying our two different ways of doing journalism was so effective, so powerful.”

“I think journalism is best done as a partnership.”

Nine’s 60 Minutes report on the court case featured an image of Masters and McKenzie working in the Victoria State Library. It was reminiscent of an iconic scene in All The President’s Men, the classic movie of investigative journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s work on the Watergate scandal.

Woodward and Bernstein at the Library of Congress in All The President’s Men

Asked about the similarity of the images, it’s one of just a couple of occasions in the interview when McKenzie slips away from the question. The other is when he’s asked about the possibility of Nine or its streaming service Stan making a docu-drama about the case.

Masters and McKenzie at NSW State Library | 60 Minutes

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SCA’s winning streak ends

Seja Al Zaidi writes

Southern Cross Austereo’s five day bull run came to an end on the Unmade Index yesterday, with the stock falling by 2.6%.

Meanwhile, the Unmade Index, our measurement of the performance of ASX-listed media and marketing stocks, rose 0.27% to land at 647.4 points.

The three largest stocks on the Unmade Index all rose yesterday. Nine lifted 0.25%, Domain 1.08%, and Ooh Media 0.81%.

Meanwhile, the Craig Hutchison-led Sports Entertainment Group rose by 12.82% and Pureprofile lifted by 4%.

Printing and marketing firm IVE Group dropped 0.87% and Enero Group fell 0.63%.

Time to leave you to your Thursday.

Audio production was courtesy of Abe’s Audio, the people to talk to about voiceovers, sound design and podcast production.

Message us: letters@unmade.media

Unmade: media and marketing analysis
Unmade: media and marketing analysis
Media and marketing news with all the in-depth analysis, insight and context you need.
Unmade offers industry news from an Australian perspective, from the founder of Mumbrella and the author of the best-selling book Media Unmade, Tim Burrowes