/ 05 April 2024

A tell-all about a tell-all

Image source: AAP
Image source: AAP

The Squiz

Former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach has testified that Network Seven paid for sex workers and illicit drugs for former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann in a bid to secure an exclusive interview for its Spotlight program in May 2023. He was giving evidence yesterday in Lehrmann’s defamation suit against Network Ten and presenter Lisa Wilkinson, with the broadcaster reopening its defence. It did that earlier this week off the back of Auerbach’s new claims that Lehrmann leaked his former colleague Brittany Higgins’ confidential text messages that were made public on Spotlight after being subpoenaed during Lehrmann’s criminal trial in the ACT in 2022. Team Lehrmann has rejected claims that he’s behind leaking the messages to Seven. In a statement, Seven said it’s “appalled” by Auerbach’s claims. And it’s not over yet – Auerbach will return to the witness box this morning…

Remind me about the Spotlight interview…

It aired Lehrmann’s first public response to Higgins’ sexual assault allegations against him – something he denies. You might remember there was a bit of a hullabaloo over the interview last year – it was initially nominated for a Walkley journalism award before being disqualified when it emerged that Seven compensated Lehrmann handsomely for his appearance. Ten’s legal team is now focusing on the fresh claims that Lehrmann received even more financial benefits than first thought. Auerbach got involved as a last-minute key witness for Ten this week when he provided new evidence about what went on behind the scenes of the Spotlight interview. He doesn’t work for Seven anymore, but he’s rejected comments from Lehrmann that he’s a “disgruntled” former employee – this week, he also threatened to sue Lehrmann over them. 

Why is the new evidence important?

Well, during the hearings last year, Lehrmann denied giving Seven any material for Spotlight aside from his interview – so with Auerbach’s claims, Ten is hoping to damage Lehrmann’s credibility as a witness. And if it’s proven that he was the source of the leaked text messages, Ten’s lawyer Matthew Collins says it could be a contempt of court… But Lehrmann’s legal team has described the new evidence as “trivial” and “not relevant”. Federal Court Justice Michael Lee has already said that he found both Lehrmann and Higgins to have credibility issues, so how much Auerbach’s testimony will affect the trial’s outcome isn’t clear. What else isn’t clear is when we’ll get that ruling… Yesterday, Lee said “what’s now being presented to me is a more substantial exercise” than he initially thought.

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