‘Dark secrets’: Emails from Channel Seven insider

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In the hit TV series Gossip Girl, an anonymous, unseen narrator is a mysterious presence, whose true identity is never fully revealed until the finale.

Strangely enough, so it is with the reputational crisis engulfing Channel 7.

The “s**tshow” raining on Seven’s Sunrise program has a gossip guy of its own, who has been patiently contacting media organisations for years, hinting at “dark secrets” inside the nation’s number one free-to-air channel.

Just like Bridgerton’s Lady Whistledown, the poison pen letter writer even has a pseudonym.

Last November, an encrypted Proton email titled “Secrets Seven Spilled” arrived at news.com.au after 9pm at night.

“Any interest in exposing … Sunrise?” the correspondent asked.

The email claimed that Seven had “very dark secrets”.

It spoke of investigations into alleged “corporate credit card fraud” and powerful players.

News.com.au responded: “That’s interesting but pretty tricky to write legally speaking. Do you have access to the report or any documents going to allegations?”

Asked if he or she knew anything about payments or contra for Bruce Lehrmann – it ended up coming out that his rent was being paid by the network after his interview with Spotlight – the Seven insider again claimed they had information.

“I know lots,’’ the anonymous emailer replied.

“Nine shouldn’t kick too hard. Bruce has records of all courtiers.”

Nine’s 60 Minutes say they dropped out of the race for an interview with Mr Lehrmann because they refused to pay.

It’s a fact that has puzzled some media observers given that Seven was prepared to pay Mr Lehrmann so much, when there was no obvious competitor.

It was obvious the whistleblower was a Seven insider, because he or she was quick to hand out the mobiles of senior HR executives.

“An SMH journo tried to start sniffing and when they got (commercial director at Seven) Bruce McWilliam (he) told them Michael was suicidal over the claims and the piece never ran,’’ the correspondent said.

What has now emerged, courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald, is that journalist Zoe Samios had been digging into the allegations since at least 2022.

But when she inquired about a secret fraud investigation at the network, Seven’s commercial director Bruce McWilliam told her that if she reported on a credit card investigation, Sunrise EP Michael Pell might be driven to self-harm.

Mr Pell denies any wrongdoing and Mr McWilliam said the controversy was overblown. News.com.au is not suggesting Mr Pell or anyone else employed by Sunrise or their friends or family misused travel benefits or acted fraudulently.

“This is what your unfounded reports have caused Michael to do,” Mr McWilliam wrote in an email to Samios in October of 2022.

“Why don’t you keep it up so he kills himself,” he continued.

The SMH said the emails were accompanied by a photograph showing Mr Pell in a hospital gown with a cut on his forehead.

But the injuries were not the result of any act of self-harm, as the newspaper reported. Instead they were due to a fall Pell had when he blacked out on a street in Los Angeles weeks earlier.

Mr McWilliam told Ms Samios the fraud investigation she mentioned had never been undertaken by the law firm she listed.

“If you publish untrue allegations. And he tops himself. It’s on you … And we are determined to protect him,’’ he said.

The SMH said it dropped the fraud investigation story due to concerns for Mr Pell’s wellbeing.

Mr McWilliam told news.com.au on Wednesday that he defended sending the confronting email to Samios.

“I make no excuse for having acted to protect a colleague, against whom false allegations were being made,” Mr McWilliam said.

“Michael Pell has been a friend of mine for many years, and so the allegation that the image was used without his consent is ridiculous.”

Mr McWilliam said the photograph of the injuries was supplied to him by Mr Pell’s husband, Daniel Burgess-Wise.

“(Nine) alleged it was … old but that wasn’t made clear to me and I don’t even know whether what they say is true,” he said.

News.com.au is not suggesting Mr Pell, or anyone else employed by Sunrise, or their friends or family, misused travel benefits or otherwise acted fraudulently.

Mr Pell was a protege of former Sunrise producer Adam Boland and became executive producer of the program in 2010, aged 28.

He left Sunrise in March of 2022 when Seven appointed him senior vice-president, entertainment content, North America, a role based in Los Angeles that he recently left.

Bullsh*t! It’s full steam ahead

Meanwhile, Spotlight producer Robert McKnight has blown up on his own podcast over the future of the embattled TV program.

News.com.au revealed last month that an ex-Spotlight producer spent thousands of dollars on a company credit card hiring Thai masseuses when he was chasing an interview with Bruce Lehrmann.

Mr Lehrmann denied getting a massage.

But now Mr McKnight, a producer who worked for Spotlight on the Ozempic special that is set to air on Sunday, has weighed in.

He was involved in a fierce argument about the future of TV and current affairs unit after a guest on his show suggested Spotlight had “a whatever it takes culture”.

“I work in that environment and that’s a load of bulls**t,” Mr McKnight said, hotly denying that the recent allegations of cocaine and sex workers were emblematic of the Seven culture.

“We’ve launched the promo for Ozempic. That’s bulls**t,” he said.

Mr McKnight added to his guests speculating on the future of the Spotlight brand that “the viewing population doesn’t give a s**t about it as much as you do”.

He then said that, hypothetically, if someone from Australia Post killed a person, Australia Post would not be responsible for the death.

“Rob, stop,’’ his co-host David Robinson said. “Stop. We’re on a TV podcast.”

Mr McKnight is a former Studio 10 executive producer who joined the Spotlight program following the departure of Taylor Auerbach in August, 2023.