Ex-Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach drops new bomb on Seven Network


Ex-Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach has dropped a new bomb on Channel 7 sending a concerns notice regarding comments purportedly made by a number of the network’s executives.

The concerns notice names Seven chief executive James Warburton, Kerry Stokes’ longstanding right-hand man Bruce McWilliam and producer and blogger Robert McKnight, and refers to comments it is claimed they made over the cocaine and sex scandal that emerged around the program’s explosive interview with Bruce Lehrmann.

Seven insiders have told news.com.au that Auerbach’s first concerns to the network notice alleged he had been defamed by statements that Seven published to ABC’s Media Watch program on or around March 25, 2024.

Law firm Giles George’s defamation specialist Rebekah Giles sent the concerns notice this week.

But a second concerns notice from Auerbach has now been sent raising concerns about comments reportedly made by outgoing CEO Mr Warburton in an email to all Seven staff. It also concerns comments made by Mr McWilliam outside the Federal Court to Sky News’ Caroline Marcus and comments made by Spotlight producer McKnight on his podcast.

Mr Warburton sent out a note to staff on April 4 saying the claims that have emerged are not part of the broadcaster’s culture.

“Seven is appalled by the allegations made in court in recent days. We do not condone the behaviours described in these allegations. They do not reflect the culture of Seven,’’ he said.

“For the record, Seven did not offer a promotion or pay rise to Taylor Auerbach in November 2022, nor did it do so at any time after that.

“Seven did not reimburse Bruce Lehrmann for expenditure that has allegedly been used to pay for illegal drugs or prostitutes, and has never done so.

“We also take issue with the allegations recently made about our conduct.”

As the seven-person board, led by chairman Mr Stokes, prepares to take part in a scheduled meeting this Thursday in Sydney – the first since the Spotlight saga began – reports have emerged the board was kept in the dark over the cocaine and credit card scandal at the current affairs show.

In the wake of that scandal, senior Seven executives made a range of public statements to defend the conduct of the broadcaster that Auerbach’s lawyers have now taken issue with in a legal letter.

The defamatory imputations that Auerbach’s lawyers assert were conveyed in Seven’s comments to Media Watch include that “Auerbach has lied in telling the Court that Mr Lehrmann was the source of documents used by Seven” and that “Auerbach has lied in his evidence in alleging that Seven condoned or authorised payments to Bruce Lehrmann”.

In relation to the statement released by the outgoing CEO, his legal team argue that the defamatory imputations include that Auerbach lied in his evidence to the court in the Bruce Lehrmann defamation proceedings in describing the conduct of Seven employees in connection with Mr Lehrmann.

He further asserts that Seven said he lied in court in claiming that he was offered a promotion or a pay rise by Seven in or after November 2022, lied in his evidence in claiming that Seven reimbursed Mr Lehrmann for expenditure and lied in alleging that Seven failed to comply with all of its obligations in relation to producing documents in response to subpoenas issued to it and lied in alleging that Seven has acted inappropriately.

The letter also takes aim at another Spotlight producer, McKnight, over comments on his personal blog and podcast.

The legal letter claims McKnight’s statements conveyed the following imputations: that Auerbach has breached his ethics as a journalist by revealing a confidential source and that Auerbach did not have his contract renewed by Seven because he used Seven’s money to pay for Mr Lehrmann’s sex workers and drugs.

The legal letter states that the harm that Auerbach has suffered as a result of the publications has been aggravated by conduct on the part of the publishers, which was lacking in good faith or was improper or unjustifiable, so as to give rise to an award of aggravated damages.

Opportunity to make amends

Auerbach’s correspondence states he is prepared to resolve the matter if Seven undertakes never to republish the publications or to repeat or republish any of the imputations.

He also wants a non-confidential letter – signed by Mr Warburton – with the following apology:

“On 2 and 4 April 2024, various senior personnel at Seven Network (Operations) Limited (Seven) published a series of false assertions about Mr Auerbach and the evidence he gave in the Bruce Lehrmann defamation proceedings. Seven accepts these assertions were unfair and untrue and therefore unreservedly withdraws them and apologises to Mr Auerbach for the harm he has suffered as a result of Seven’s statements about him.”

Although the publishers have 28 days to serve any offer to make amends, Auerbach’s legal letter states that he is of the view that the apology must be published swiftly and that any delay in publishing it will significantly decrease its effect and potentially render it useless.

“Accordingly, Mr Auerbach’s offer will only remain open for acceptance for a period of 10 days from the date of this letter.”

News.com.au has contacted Seven, Mr Warburton, Mr McWilliam and McKnight for comment.