Willesee Death Sparks Network Anger after ABC Blocks Vision Requests

Mike Willesee
image - News Corp

It might seem hard to believe, but the untimely death of beloved Australian journalist Mike Willesee last week has caused tension in TV newsrooms across the Industry.

When news of Willesee’s death was confirmed on Friday, networks rushed to finalise their memorial packages. 

Having worked across multiple networks, an agreement was quickly reached between SEVEN and NINE to allow for the sharing of archive vision from Willesee's long journalistic career. However, when commercial broadcasters looked to strike a similar agreement with the ABC, things got complicated. 

Willesee's final TV appearance was in a two-part Australian Story special which originally aired in September 2017.

Entertainment journalist Peter Ford told 6PR, commercial networks had contacted Australian Story producer's on Friday to request a 30 second broadcast quality video clip, which would be used in memorial packages across all networks. This request was denied.

Additionally, producer's at Australian Story made the decision to remove the Willesee special from the program’s website, to prevent other media outlets from capturing the vision.

TV Blackbox has spoken with senior figures at multiple outlets frustrated by decision, with one describing it as "Unbelievable".

"Everyone else played nicely, as everyone always does in such situations, but the ABC refused this time." 

Commercial broadcasters were particularly frustrated given much of the archived footage featured in Australian Story had been supplied by SEVEN and NINE.

While the ABC blocked other outlets access to the footage, the network did broadcast an edited version of the story on Monday night. The repeat was a ratings hit for the ABC with 943,000 viewers nationally. 

A spokesperson for the ABC confirmed producers of Australian Story had blocked vision requests from other networks, but defended the decision telling TV Blackbox:

“For the initial Australian Story episode, broadcast in November 2017, Mike Willesee generously gave us access to himself, his doctor and family in order to tell a deeply personal story.

Australian Story does not generally give away content to other networks without approval from the people whose stories we are telling, and when someone has died we are especially careful.

In this case, we were able to get permission from Mike’s family over the weekend and, with their blessing, we rescreened the episode on Monday night. Under the circumstances, we felt it would not have been appropriate for other networks to run this material before we did that.”