The chairman of Free TV Australia Harold Mitchell has been "forced" to resign following allegations made by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) about his involvement with Tennis Australia.
Mitchell revealed news of the acrimonious departure in a brief statement.
"It is with regret that I have been forced to make this decision following the false accusations by [ASIC], which I intend to vigorously defend," says Mitchell.
The resignation follows allegations made by ASIC against Mitchell that he and Stephen Healy mislead the Tennis Australia board to ensure the Seven Network would secure the broadcast rights to the Australian Open tennis tournament.
ASIC claims that Healy and Mitchell withheld information from Tennis Australia, failed to ensure the board was fully informed about the interest of other networks and failed to advise the board to put the rights up for a competitive tender.
The watchdog has commenced civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia relating to these issues.
Seven West Media has also responded to the ASIC allegations today, saying that it has co-operated with the ASIC investigation, but fully denies "false suggestionsmade by others".
"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," says a Seven spokesperson.
ASIC is hoping to receive declarations that Mitchell and Healy contravened sections of the Corporations Act, as well as orders that Mitchell and Healy be disqualified from managing corporations.
During his tenure as chairman of Free TV Australia, Mitchell was instrumental in the repeal of the media ownership laws, the removal of commercial television licence fees, the transition to digital only television, defeating the proposal to increase SBS advertising time limits and maintaining the anti-siphoning list.
Free TV CEO Bridget Fair says Mitchell will be missed.
"Harold will be sorely missed by Free TV and the commercial television industry. We thank him for his outstanding service to the industry and we wish him well," says Fair.
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