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Network stars and Treasurer Jim Chalmers slam Nine chair Peter Costello over airport aggression as board meets

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
4 Min Read
In today's politician's forum Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley address the controversy surrounding Peter Costello in addition to the condemning of the Green's party.

The Nine board on Friday met to discuss the future of embattled chairman Peter Costello as some of the media company’s biggest names and senior politicians censured his alleged assault of a young journalist at Canberra Airport.

As senior figures from both sides of politics said Mr Costello appeared to have behaved inappropriately, Sydney’s prominent morning radio tag-team Ben Fordham and Ray Hadley said on Nine-owned 2GB that Mr Costello had questions to answer over the incident with News Corp reporter Liam Mendes.

Shocking video appears to show Mr Costello pushing Mr Mendes over as the reporter peppered him with questions about the sexual harassment and bullying scandals dogging Nine, which have led to the departure of TV news boss Darren Wick and cast a cloud over the future of CEO Mike Sneesby.

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Nine’s battered share price, which has been falling for the past month amid complaints by several high profile female staffers that their concerns of a toxic culture were ignored by management, on Friday hit a 52 week low of $1.40.

Amid calls for him to step down over the incident, Mr Costello has denied making any contact with the reporter, saying “I did not lay a finger or a fist or anything on him” and that Mr Mendes had fallen after walking backwards into an advertising placard.

The incident was on Friday inserted into the agenda of a scheduled meeting of the Nine board.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers criticised Mr Costello and said it was a matter for Mr Mendes about whether a complaint should be made to police.

“I think it’s really important that we treat journalists with respect, that journalists are safe in their workplace,” Mr Chalmers said in Brisbane.

“And if anyone should know that, it should be the chairman of a major media organisation.”

Mr Hadley said Mr Costello’s behaviour was “not really good” and called on him to clarify what happened.

He said the video published on The Australian shows Mr Costello “appearing to push a News Ltd journalist to the ground. He refused to answer the reporter’s questions relating to the rolling harassment scandal at the company”.

“Look, I mean I know what would happen to me if I dropped my shoulder into someone who was trying to interrogate me somewhere. You wouldn’t hear the end of it,” Mr Hadley said.

“Now he says that he didn’t do it.

“From a company’s point of view, it’s not really good when the chairman is accused, let alone acted in the way that he allegedly acted. So as I said we are owned by the same interest.

“It’s a reportable matter and needs to be dealt with.”

Earlier, Ben Fordham said, “Boss, you’ve had a shocker”, and read out a copy of a text he had sent Mr Costello asking for an interview, to which he had received no reply.

Former treasurer Wayne Swan, who succeeded Mr Costello as treasurer when Labor won office from John Howard in 2007, said his former political rival had behaved inappropriately.

“In public life, you face the blowtorch from time to time and you’ve just to keep your cool,” Mr Swan said on Friday morning.

“But you know when you’re a senior minister, when you’re the head of a large public company, especially a company which practices quality journalism you’ve got to be very careful about how you behave.”

Education Minister Jason Clare said on Sunrise that journalists should be safe while doing their jobs and that CCTV footage of the incident should be looked at to get to the bottom of what happened.

“I just make the general point that everybody should be safe at work,” Mr Clare said.

“No one should be pushing other people around. The journalist there says…it did happen, I see Mr. Costello said that it didn’t happen. There’s CCTV footage I’m sure that the airport has as well, it’s a matter for the airport about whether they release that or provide that to the police.”

The journalist union condemned Mr Costello’s behaviour.

“As the chair of a major media company that employs hundreds of journalists, Mr Costello should know that a journalist asking him questions is just doing his job, and like any other work in this country deserves to be treated with respect and to be safe,” said Michelle Rae, Acting Director of MEAA Media.

“Whatever the circumstances of the incident, it is concerning that not only did Mr Costello behave aggressively towards the journalist from The Australian, but he showed no concern for his wellbeing after he fell to the ground.

“It is extremely disappointing that as the chair of a media organisation, Mr Costello should appear to have such low regard for the work of journalists, whoever they are employed by.”

A spokesperson for Canberra Airport said that the CCTV footage would not be released publicly at the direction of Australian Federal Police.

Former foreign minister Alexander Downer said public figures needed to be able to withstand questions from the media.

“It can be trying when journalists harass you but of course, if you’re in a senior position you’ve got to put up with people asking you a lot of questions, sometimes quite intimate questions,” Mr Downer said on Sky.

News Corp and Nine have been approached for comment.

ACT Police said on Friday morning that no complaint had been received about the incident.

More to come.

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