The chief executive of Sky News has expressed deep regret about an interview with Blair Cottrell and announced management changes as part of a restructuring of the editorial group.
Outgoing Australian News Channel CEO Angelos Frangopoulos also vowed that “Blair Cottrell will not be back on the channel” after the former leader of far-right group the United Patriots Front appeared as a guest of former Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles on Sunday.
After a review of the editorial processes today, Sky has appointed Greg Byrnes to the newly created position of acting program director and named Kaycie Bradford as acting news director.
“We deeply regret featuring the interview on our channel. It was an error of judgment and we have taken action to ensure our standards, which we are proud of, are maintained,” said Mr Frangopoulos in a statement.
“Sky News features wide debate and discussion from across the political spectrum and will invite guests at times whose views are objectionable, but when we do, they must be held to account in the context of respectful discourse that meets community and our own expectations.
“The Sky News editorial leadership team will ensure the production of weekend programs and guest appearances meet editorial, journalistic and community expectations.”
Sky will also withdraw the Adam Giles Show to “review the production format and structure of the program”.
Earlier today former Rudd-Gillard government minister Craig Emerson resigned as a Sky News commentator in protest at the interview with Cottrell.
Sky moved quickly to apologise amid an online backlash after the interview was broadcast. Within hours of the appearance, Sky issued an apology via Twitter and deleted the video on its digital platforms.
Last night Dr Emerson criticised the decision to give Cottrell airtime, warning he would have more to say about the matter today.
“Adam Giles & his producer knew exactly who Blair Cotterell (sic) is & invited him onto @SkyNewsAust for that reason. They wanted to give voice to Nazism and violence against women. As a Sky contributor during daytime hours I will have more to say about Sky tomorrow,” Dr Emerson tweeted, retweeting a tweet from Sky News political anchor Laura Jaes describing Cottrell as a “self confessed Hitler fan” who has “boasted about using ‘violence and terror’ to manipulate women.”
Today, Dr Emerson tweeted that he was resigning.
“I have advised @SkyNewsAust that I have quit as a Sky commentator. My father fought Nazis in WWII and was interred in a German POW camp. The decision to allow Neo-Nazi Blair Cotterell onto the channel was another step in a journey to normalising racism & bigotry in our country,” he said.
Veteran Sky News host Helen Dalley has also announced her resignation this morning, but says that this had nothing to do with Cottrell’s appearance.
Dalley today confirmed her decision to resign was “totally unrelated” to Cottrell’s appearance on Sky.
“I actually resigned several weeks ago, and they asked me to works some extra weeks … but I only just made it public,” she said.
“I’ve had a fantastic 11 years here and seen Sky News/Sky News Business grow, but time to do other things.”
Last night, Sky News director Greg Byrnes said: “It was wrong to have Blair Cottrell on Sky News Australia. His views do not reflect ours. The interview has been removed from repeat timeslots and online platforms.”
A spokeswoman for Sky News, which is owned by The Australian’s publisher News Corp, said: “Sky News management is currently investigating the circumstances around which Blair Cottrell appeared on the channel.”
Sky host Janine Perrett said on Twitter last night: “His offenses are too long to list on Twitter but should be included in any introduction to him.”
Sky News journalists including chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert and anchor Laura Jayes also denounced Mr Cottrell on Twitter.
“Blair Cottrell is a far right-wing fascist who’s a self confessed Hitler fan.” Jayes tweeted.
Gilbert tweeted: I had never heard of Cottrell and I hope I don’t ever again. Racism is always repugnant and sickening.”
On his show this morning, Gilbert reiterated that Cottrell would not be a guest on Sky again, as Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland thanked him and his colleagues for their comments.
“I think we are in very much agreement that individuals such as this hold extremist views that would be repugnant to the vast majority of Australians,” Ms Rowland said.
“They should not have more airtime than they deserve, and I’m sure we would not want to waste another second talking about such people, but I think the point is well made.”
Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich welcomed Sky’s apology in a statement sent to The Australian.
“While we welcome the apology, there is no doubt that Sky News has failed us all and has demonstrated poor judgment in to giving this anti-Semite and racist who has called Jews degenerates, who wants a photo of Adolf Hitler in every Australian classroom the megaphone to spread his poisonous message,” he said.
“Did the producers and host not realise that furnishing this individual with air time on a respectable forum is wrong? This highly irresponsible decision risks normalising, legitimising and mainstreaming ugly incitement against Jews and minorities.
“The far-right is aiming at attracting a broad audience for their hateful views and agenda, and will capitalise on every opportunity afforded to them by the media. This must be opposed all fronts, and this is the time that demands moral leadership by the media in confronting this surge in hatred.”
Mr Cottrell is a controversial figure for his extremist views. He once called for schools to hang a picture of Adolf Hitler in every Australian classroom.
It comes after Sky announced a new channel on regional television network WIN will launch on September 2, accompanied by a new breakfast show hosted by Jaynie Seal.