The Seven Network has sparked controversy, revealing it has secured the first interview with accused Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann.
Mr Lehrmann will break his two-year silence about rape allegations against him in an extended interview Seven’s Spotlight on Sunday.
In a release about the bombshell interview, Seven promised that “nothing is off limits” as Mr Lehrmann sits down with Seven’s Liam Bartlett.
“It is the most controversial legal saga in recent history, one that has ferociously divided public opinion, rocked the foundations of the federal government in Canberra, destroyed careers and sullied reputations,” Seven said.
“Through it all, the man accused of a shocking sexual assault has remained silent. Until now.”
Another former Liberal staffer, Brittany Higgins, accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her inside the Parliament House office of then minister Linda Reynolds, who they both worked for in March 2019.
He has consistently denied the allegation, maintaining the pair never had any sexual interaction.
A criminal trial brought against Mr Lehrmann in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed last October because of juror misconduct.
In December, the ACT prosecutor dropped the charges due to fears about the effect of a second trial on Ms Higgins’ mental health.
Mr Lehrmann’s side of the story has so far been heard only through his police interview, which was played to the Canberra jury. Throughout his trial, he exercised his right not to give evidence.
Sunday’s interview will reportedly cover a range of topics, including how Mr Lehrmann felt when Ms Higgins’ allegations first emerged. He is also expected to speak about the moment former prime minister Scott Morrison apologised in parliament to Ms Higgins.
Seven has denied that it paid Mr Lehrmann, now a law student, for the exclusive interview.
“Spotlight made no payment to Bruce Lehrmann for the interview. However, the program assisted with accommodation as part of the filming of the report,” it said.
TV Blackbox reported that Seven’s interview with Mr Lehrmann was shot on Tuesday – the same day he settled a defamation case against News Corp’s New Life Media and national political editor Samantha Maiden.
Mr Lehrmann claimed two articles defamed him, even though he was not identified within the reports.
They remain online but include an updated editorial note added as part of the settlement.
“News.com.au notes that a criminal charge of sexual assault was brought against Mr Lehrmann and later dropped. News.com.au does not suggest that he was guilty of that charge,” it reads.
News has not made any apology or correction.
The media company will not have to pay any damages to Mr Lehrmann under the settlement. It has agreed to pay some of his legal costs.
News.com.au editor-in-chief Lisa Muxworthy said the broadcaster stood by its reports of how the allegations were dealt with by political leaders and institutions.
“We thank Ms Brittany Higgins for telling her story and for all that she has endured in making that choice to improve the system for complainants,” she said.
“We will continue to report on the general issues surrounding sexual assault allegations, our justice system and how to improve that system for men and women.”
Mr Lehrmann’s defamation cases against Ten, journalist Lisa Wilkinson and the ABC over their reports of Ms Higgins’ allegations remain on foot.