Harold Mitchell has resigned from his role as chairman of Free TV Australia amid a court case filed against him by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) relating to the awarding of broadcast rights for the 2013 edition of the Australian Open grand slam tennis tournament.
Mitchell formerly served as vice-president of Tennis Australia. According to Australian broadcaster ABC, ASIC has alleged that Mitchell and then-president of Tennis Australia, Stephen Healy, breached the Corporation Acts when awarding rights to the 2013 Australian Open to commercial broadcaster Seven.
ASIC has also claimed that Mitchell improperly used his position and information he had gained to provide Seven with an advantage when bidding for rights to the tournament. Channel Ten and the IMG agency were also interested in rights. ASIC’s claim alleges that Mitchell may have helped Seven secure the rights at a cheaper price.
Mitchell has maintained his innocence and has labelled the accusations as “false”. His resignation from Free TV is effective immediately and Mitchell said it was with regret that he had been “forced to make this decision”.
A spokesperson for Mitchell told ABC that nobody from the organisation had raised any concerns about his role, adding: “Harold took the decision off his own bat…everyone’s been very supportive.”
Seven has also responded to the ASIC allegation. In a statement reported by the Mumbrella website, a spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “Insofar as false suggestions have been made by others it is important to clarify that Seven co-operated in the ASIC investigation as required of it and no allegations have been made by ASIC against Seven executives or directors.
“Our contract with Tennis Australia provided for an exclusive negotiating window which we pursued in good faith. In accordance with expectations Tennis Australia had to similarly engage in good faith negotiations during that period, not only because of the contractual obligation but also because of the longstanding relationship.
“There was a material step up in the rights fee agreed and we reached agreement within that exclusive period. We didn’t receive any confidential information and nor was it put to us by ASIC that we had.”