Networks Ten and Seven at war, again

18 March, 2014 by Don Groves

A protracted court battle between Networks Ten and Seven over veteran programmer John Stephens seems likely.

Ten has begun Supreme Court action accusing Seven of inducing Stephens to breach a two-year contract as director of scheduling and acquisitions.


Stephens, who was a programming consultant with Seven, was due to start at Ten in June, working with chief programming officer Beverley McGarvey. But he changed his mind several days after his appointment was announced by Ten CEO Hamish McLennan on March 7.

Ten obtained an interim injunction on Friday stopping Seven from inducing him to breach the contract. In the Supreme Court on Monday the injunction was not extended but the court ordered an expedited hearing.  Seven told the court that Stephens had signed a new two-year deal with it. The hearing is expected to be held in about 4-6 weeks.

“The case is about Seven inducing John Stephens to breach his contract with Ten," a Ten spokesman said. “Indeed, yesterday Justice Paul Brereton said there is a seriously arguable case that Seven has engaged in conduct that constitutes an interference with Ten’s agreement with John Stephens.”

This afternoon Seven issued this statement: "Key programming executive, John Stephens, has decided to remain at the Seven Network, despite Network Ten’s public announcement on 7 March that he would be joining Ten and was critically important to Ten’s turnaround strategy.

"Yesterday in the Supreme Court, Justice Brereton not only refused Ten’s application for interlocutory relief against Seven and Mr Stephens but also ordered Ten to pay Seven and Mr Stephens’ legal costs."

That prompted this response from Ten: "Mr John Stephens remains under a contract with Network Ten, which is continuing and has not been terminated. Under that contract, he commences with Network Ten on June 9, 2014."

Stephens is a former director of programming at the Nine and a former head of programming strategy and acquisitions at Seven.

The loss of Stephens does leave a gap in Ten's programming and scheduling ranks as it strives to rebuild its ratings.

There has been bad blood between the two broadcasters since Seven took Ten to court in 2011 to enforce a one-year non-compete clause in executive James Warburton’s contract. Warburton was forced to sit on the sidelines for 10 months before he joined Ten.