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Seven boss to leave immediately

PROMINENCE and ANTI-SIPHONING
Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton is leaving the company immediately. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton is leaving the troubled company more than two months earlier than initially announced.

“Current managing director and chief executive officer James Warburton will finish at SWM today ... with Jeff Howard commencing in the role on April 19,” the company announced to the ASX said on Thursday.

Mr Howard, the company’s chief financial officer, was announced as Mr Warburton’s successor in December and had been due to take up the role on June 30.

Former Seven West chief executive officer and managing director James Warburton and his successor chief financial officer Jeff Howard.
Former Seven West chief executive officer and managing director James Warburton and his successor chief financial officer Jeff Howard.

SWM chairman Kerry Stokes and Mr Howard both thanked Mr Warburton for his contribution to the business over many years.

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The statement to the ASX did not give a reason for Mr Warburton’s early departure from the company.

An earlier December announcement to investors flagged Mr Warburton’s departure for the end of the financial year, up to or before June 30.

Mr Warburton is the second high profile exit in recent weeks, with Spotlight boss Mark Llewellyn leaving the company last week, following a string of serious allegations about the program.

Mr Lewellyn, the program’s executive producer, resigned as disturbing allegations — heard in the Federal Court — piled up over how the network secured their interview with Bruce Lehrmann.

No reason was given in the ASX statement for Mr Warburton’s early departure. Source: Seven West Media
No reason was given in the ASX statement for Mr Warburton’s early departure. Source: Seven West Media

Taylor Auerbach, a former senior producer at Spotlight who was Mr Lehrmann’s ‘babysitter’, alleged in documents tendered to the court the pair took drugs and partied with sex workers, with more $10,000 charged back to Seven.

He also alleged during the production of the story he was provided with documents from Mr Lehrmann’s ACT Supreme Court criminal trial, in contravention of legal principles.

In court last year, Mr Lehrmann denied providing documents to Seven, saying: “No, I just gave an interview.”

Mr Auerbach, 32, was involved in two exclusive interviews with Mr Lehrmann.

A secret recording of Mr Llewellyn during a meeting with staffers of the show spoke of the pressure to “do whatever it takes to get the story”.

NCA NewsWire contacted Seven West, who denied Mr Warburton’s departure was in any way related to Mr Auerbach’s allegations.

Seven is also facing legal proceedings after its Sunrise program wrongly named Benjamin Cohen as the Bondi Junction attacker.

LEHRMANN
Former Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach made serious allegations about how the Bruce Lehrmann interview was negotiated. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short

Mr Cohen, who was incorrectly identified as the knife attacker by Seven on Sunday, has engaged two of Australia’s foremost defamation lawyers in Patrick George of Giles George as his solicitor, and Sue Chrysanthou SC as barrister.

Mr Cohen described the experience as “highly distressing” in a video posted over the weekend.

“It’s extremely disappointing to me to see people mindlessly propagating information like this without even the slightest thought put into fact checking,” he said.

“But what’s even more disappointing to me is a major news network doing this, using my name without waiting for a statement from police to verify this or going out to try and verify it themselves.”

Seven issued an on-air apology to Mr Cohen on Sunday, read by reporter Sarah Jane Bell during a cross.

The company blamed “human error” for the misidentification.

Last week, Nine media reported that Seven had ordered two separate investigations into claims a small number of staffers at its top-rating breakfast show Sunrise had engaged in fraud.

LEHRMANN DECISION
Bruce Lehrmann (left) leaves Federal Court in Sydney after Justice Michael Lee handed down his judgment, which concluded Mr Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins. Picture: NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard

Mr Warburton served as chief executive at Seven West for four years and had recently spruiked the company’s acquisition of long-term AFL and cricket TV streaming rights.

Seven West’s central business is television, but it also owns The West Australian newspaper and launched a new national news publication called The Nightly in February.

The company reported a sharp 53 per cent fall in profits in its latest half-year earnings report to December 2023, sinking to $54m from $115m in the corresponding period.

Revenues fell five per cent to $775m.

The company’s share price has collapsed more than 22 per cent year-to-date for a market capitalisation of about $315m.

The stock jumped in afternoon trading on Thursday following the announcement of Mr Warburton’s sudden departure.