Campbell Live has moved from the chopping block to death row.
After a lift in ratings, broadcaster MediaWorks has extended the review of the current affairs programme indefinitely. The review announced on April 9, to be headed by MediaWorks' head of news Mark Jennings, initially called for consultation with staff to end by April 17.
The announcement sparked a public outcry, including public petitions and marches. On the day before consultation was due to end, a company spokeswoman said the "timeframe was extended at the request of the staff".
The attention over the future of the show has mobilised viewers, pushing the show's ratings to their highest levels in years.
This week, the spokeswoman said: "There's no specific timeframe for the review finishing."
The elongation of the process is understood to have caused concern among Campbell Live staff, who suspected management would now wait for public attention to wane, and ratings to dip, before swinging the axe.
Victoria University employment law professor Gordon Anderson said while legislation was "pretty open" in terms of how restructuring decisions should be made, the lengthening of the process and revelations that sponsor Mazda had been moved from an annual to a three-month contract in February did raise questions.
"As long as it looks commercially justified, they can make that decision. But once you go out of your way to set it up not to be commercially viable, unless you've got a good reason to be moving sponsors to short-term contracts, [MediaWorks] could find themselves running into trouble," he said.
Anderson said given that the review was announced with the purpose of improving the commercial performance of the 7pm slot, the boost in audience numbers would make it difficult to justify axing the show. "I suspect if the ratings stay up, that'll tie their hands," he said.
The MediaWorks spokeswoman yesterday rejected suggestions the outcome of the review was pre-determined.
"We have consistently said there is no specific timeframe for the conclusion of the review, and this has not changed. Our priority is to run a thorough and fair process for all those involved, and reach the right outcome for MediaWorks," she said.
Advertising sources said the Mazda deal would likely be worth $1 million annually. It is understood the current deal expires on May 29.
MediaWorks declined to comment on the sponsorship arrangements or tenures.