Sky News host Rita Panahi has called for Lisa Wilkinson to be prosecuted for contempt of court as calls grow for her to be sacked following her Logies speech.
‘A high school media studies student could’ve told Wilkinson, and the entire brains trust at Ten, that the speech was out of bounds,’ Panahi wrote in a scathing column for Herald Sun.
Wilkinson is under heavy fire after she mentioned alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins in her speech moments after winning the Outstanding News Coverage Logie award for her one-of-one interview with the former ministerial staffer in 2021.
‘Wilkinson isn’t some inexperienced intern who didn’t know any better; she is a media veteran in her 60s well aware that her speech could undermine the accused, Bruce Lehrmann, receiving a fair trial,’ Panahi wrote. Lehrmann has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
The Sky News host brought up an old tweet made by Wilkinson that indicated she was aware of the legal repercussions of mentioning details of the Higgins trial.
‘On the issue of the 26yo man summonsed for an alleged sexual assault of a woman in Parliament House in March 2019 can I implore everyone to respect what’s in play here,’ Wilkinson wrote on August 6, 2021.
‘Naming the man on social media & passing judgment could have dire consequences for the outcome of any trial.’
Panahi said that the backlash from the speech should ‘serve as a warning to others in the media’.
Sky News host Rita Panahi called for Lisa Wilkinson to be charged with contempt of court amid calls for her to be dropped by Channel Ten in the wake of the saga
Wilkinson’s speech led to ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum to stay Higgins’s trial until October over concerns her comments could prejudice jurors. On Thursday, the Supreme Court set a new date of October 4 for the trial.
Chief Justice Lucy McCallum decided to delay the trial ‘regrettably and with gritted teeth’ because ‘somewhere in this debate, the distinction between an untested allegation and the fact of guilt has been lost’.
She noted public interest in the case needed to die down before Lehrmann would have access to a fair jury.
On Thursday morning Lehrmann’s defence barrister Steve Whybrow applied for the trial to be delayed further, until the beginning of next year.
‘My application would be, to the extent that the bush fire is still burning in effect, that the trial commence early next year because we would like there to be no further issues and delays,’ he told the court.
‘We can foresee the possibility that there may be collateral matters that need to be investigated relating to the circumstances that have led to the trial being vacated.’
Justice McCallum denied his application and said: ‘The publicity this week has focused sharply on the very fact that was being overlooked, that a man is facing trial and he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.’
Higgins’s Crown prosecutor Shane Drumgold agreed with Justice McCallum’s decision, noting the 102-day delay was more generous than that given in similar cases.
Mr Drumgold also announced on Thursday he was seeking written undertakings by the end of the day from Network 10, Wilkinson and the owners of Sydney radio station WSFM that they would no longer commentate on the trial.
The written agreement would also see the three parties agree that any future comments could be in the contempt of court.
Mr Drumgold said if the undertaking were not made by Network 10, Wilkinson and WSFM then he would seek an injunction to stop future public comment.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is unable to confirm whether the undertakings were made.
Mr Drumgold also said five books currently being written – from authors including Sydney Morning Herald columnist Niki Savva, News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden and Ten’s political editor Peter van Onselen – may comment on the case.
Justice McCallum said publishers should remember Lehrmann is yet to be proven guilty in a court of law.
‘Even a discussion of workplace culture has to dance a delicate dance,’ she said.
‘If the issue is the treatment of an allegation, it’s very difficult to have that debate without commenting on appropriate treatment on the assumed premise that the allegation is true.’
Network 10 announced on Wednesday it hired high-profile lawyer Matthew Collins on behalf of the Network and Wilkinson just hours after Dr Collins criticised Wilkinson’s speech on rival Chanel Seven’s Sunrise morning show.
‘It’s certainly possible that the authorities will be looking at the speech she made to the Logies and assessing (whether) that speech went against the standard which applies in this branch of the law,’ Dr Collins said.
‘That standard is, did anything that she did have a tendency to interfere with the administration of justice?’
It is unclear if Wilkinson will be charged with contempt of court but it is understood that she should have been made aware of any consequences by the close of business on Thursday.
Network Ten it ‘fully supports Lisa Wilkinson’ and confirmed Dr was hired to represent it and Wilkinson.
‘Both Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson take their legal obligations very seriously, including in the preparation and delivery of her speech given at the Logies event,’ a spokeswoman told news.com.au.
‘In light of the continuing proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.’
Wilkinson’s Logies speech late Sunday night was watched by millions of viewers moments after winning a Logie for her interview with Ms Higgins days after the former Liberal staffer went public with her allegations she was raped at Parliament House by a colleague in 2019.
Wilkinson (left) has been criticised for her acceptance speech for the Outstanding News Coverage Logie award for her one-of-one interview with the former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins (right)
There are growing calls for Wilkinson to be shown the door by Network 10, adding to the pile-on from current and former colleagues, rivals and public commentators calling for Wilkinson to be axed.
Viewers have also jumped on the bandwagon calling for her to be sacked or at least taken off-air until an outcome in the rape trial is reached.
‘Producers and editors, please get this person from TV, radio and newsprint. she is totally embarrassing for your organisations,’ one man posted online.
The fallout from Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies award acceptance speech continues with calls for her to be axed
One woman added: ‘She needs to go, her EGO is so big, Channel 10 need to remove her from The Project.’
Another woman wrote: ‘Yes she should be held responsible for her arrogant actions and sacked. A very painful woman.’
Some went as far as calling her a national disgrace.
‘Surely at some point 10 will realise Lisa is a liability? She has made that show unwatchable,’ one woman commented.
Others reluctantly believed Network 10 will stand by her.
‘She’ll no doubt have the full endorsement and support of Channel 10 and ‘The Project’,’ one man wrote.
‘Cynical me thinks it’s an attempt to stay relevant as she slowly fades into obscurity along with all the rest of the ‘Woke Folk’ she works with.
Other viewers called for Lisa Wilkinson to be taken off-air by Channel Ten until an outcome in the Brittany Higgins rape trial
Many viewers have jumped on the bandwagon calling for the media veteran to be sacked
The massive backlash prompted some of Wilkinson’s supporters to leap to her defence.
‘Lisa Wilkinson hasn’t come this far to intentionally jeopardise anybody. As a young editor she educated a generation of teens about their (bodies).
‘I wouldn’t of survived the abuse I’d suffered without the information she offered in Dolly mag. Everyone’s so quick on the bandwagon,’ one person tweeted on Thursday.
Lisa Wilkinson (right) won a Logie for her television interview with alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins (also pictured)