Ten loses Stephens court case

29 May, 2014 by Don Groves

Network Ten has lost its court case over John Stephens' decision to remain at the Seven Network, but both sides are claiming victory.

The NSW Supreme Court today dismissed Ten's application for an injunction to prevent Stephens working at Seven, where he has been a programming consultant.


The Court found Stephens did not breach an agreement  when he signed a two-year contract with Ten to become director of scheduling and acquisitions and that Seven did not induce him to break that agreement.

But  Network Ten CEO Hamish McLennan welcomed the decision, stating: “The ruling that Mr Stephens’ contract with Ten remains on foot vindicates our position. The court has found that our contract is valid and binding.

“We stated from the outset that our aim was to get to the truth of what happened after Mr Stephens signed a contract with our company.”

Ten said Justice Stevenson found that Stephens was labouring under no disability when he signed the agreement and  that Seven applied "pressure, procuration and persuasion" to Stephens to walk away from the agreement.

The hearing revealed that the painkiller defense was concocted and laughable, Ten said, adding, "As Mr Stephens said in an email to Seven’s Bruce McWilliam, he was not on painkillers at the time he signed the agreement with Network Ten."

Stevenson said the question of whether Stephens'  contract with Ten is enforceable could be considered “if and when Ten seeks to take further action."

Stephens was due to start at Ten in June, working with chief programming officer Beverley McGarvey. But he changed his mind after his appointment was announced by McLennan on March 7.

Ten filed a statement of claim against Seven and Stephens, including an order seeking to prevent him from continuing to work with Seven.

"We are pleased that this annoying attempt at distraction by Ten is concluded," Seven said. "We are pleased that Mr Stephens is able to continue to work for Seven and not take up the generous offer from Ten to be paid for two years to do nothing. This offer undoubtedly would have set a new precedent for the industry."

Stephens said, "The past few weeks have been a chapter in my life I could certainly have lived without and perhaps both Ten and Seven feel the same way. It is disappointing the situation had to progress all the way to the Supreme Court but I guess that is part of the competitive nature of our business.

"Regardless, I am relieved the legal stoush is now done and dusted and I can now concentrate more fully on my consultancy role with Seven."

Ten has hired Len Downs, who retired last year after a long career as Channel 9's programming chief in Melbourne, as a consultant, initially for three months, working with McGarvey.