After 13 years at channel Nine (1982-1995), high-profile journalist Jana Wendt "sent shockwaves through an industry not known for its shockability" when she signed a 3-year contract with channel Seven to host the flagship public affairs program 'Witness' in 1996. The decision was said would bring Jana back to political centre-stage. "At Nine, she was one of many big fish in a big pond. At Seven, she will be the big fish in a little pond," it was reported. 

Tony Barber, former host of game show 'Sale of the Century', told 'Fairfax Media' in 1991, "Winning is the religion at Nine (in Melbourne). Good ratings, like prayers, are offered by the Programming Prophets (accompanied by the Vestal Virgins from Publicity) to the high altar of the Sales Department, to invoke the pleasure of great gods of advertising.

"Bad Ratings are the TV sin that dare not speak its number. 'Aberration', 'bad sample', and 'they had the Queen Mother on that night', the only grudging admissions that the veil of the temple had been dented. Beating the others (Seven and Ten) was one thing. Beating Sydney was seen to be almost as important. It was a matter of pride that new programs and specials did better 'here' (Melbourne) than 'there' (Sydney).

"I felt this was to do with GTV (Melbourne channel Nine) not being seen as some sort of outpost of the centre of empire (TCN, Sydney). Also Sam (Chisholm) was in Sydney and Melbourne. Managing directors were 'driven' by Sam. Some to distraction. Some to early retirement packages. Sam was the highest of the high priests. The instrumentality of (Kerry) Packer pre-1983, he became omnipotent during the (Alan) Bond era, and unnecessary after it."

It was understood the rivalry between the two largest cities in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne dated back to 1901 when Australia was federated, in part because of the location of the national capital. Eventually Canberra was chosen, situated in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – in the middle between Sydney and Melbourne. Richard Glover clarified in 2017, "For much of our European history, the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry was a dominating conflict."

Jane Cadzow reported, "Nine has a stronger star system than the other networks. Now (in 1991), with Seven gaining in the ratings, it is more dependent than ever on the drawing power of celebrities such as Jana Wendt, host of the top-rating 'A Current Affair'. Wendt is Nine's biggest single asset, delivering more than two million viewers a night. Independent media analyst Peter Cox calculates that the movement of Wendt and her audience from Nine to Seven would be enough to put Seven slightly ahead in the ratings in the biggest and most important markets, Sydney and Melbourne."

George Negus remarked, "I doubt that people like them (Jana Wendt and Ray Martin) would be doing what they're doing (hosting 'A Current Affair' and 'The Midday Show') if Nine were more receptive to their suggestions. It's (Seven) a more fertile ground for ideas and that's terribly important to me. I got a bit tired of running into brick walls." Media analyst George Sutton expressed, "They (Nine) are spending very little money on new product (at the time)."

'Fairfax Media' pointed out, "Nine wins the ratings in Sydney and Melbourne because of the massive lead it establishes each weekday between 6pm and 7pm. In Sydney, where the main bulletin has been read by Brian Henderson (since 1964) and in Melbourne by Brian Naylor (since 1978), Nine's 6pm news often has twice as many viewers as both other commercial networks combined. The news is followed by Jana Wendt's 'A Current Affair', the most watched program on television (at the time). Television is in Kerry Packer's blood. His father, Sir Frank Packer founded Nine in 1956 but it was Kerry Packer who nurtured the network to pre-eminence. He is acknowledged as a master of the game.

"As with the news, 'A Current Affair's' domination must, in part, be attributed to the canny promotion of personality (such as the "Lady Writer on the TV" campaign). Like Brian Naylor, Jana Wendt has become a familiar and respected authority figure. Nine successful investment in the pulling power of Naylor and Wendt flows across the board." Hence in December 1995, when then Seven managing director Gary Rice lured Jana Wendt from Nine, "he signed the most valuable individual in Australian television."

Of the 'Witness' program, Jana made the comment, "We're a blend of different cultures here … and there are different styles within those cultures – it's real melting pot. So trying to merge those different approaches is extremely interesting." Gary Rice maintained, "We don't expect 30s from the outset – though if we got good ratings from the start, we would be delighted. Jana Wendt is a wonderful woman, but she is not the Messiah. Nor is 'Witness' the Second Coming. Jana is an extremely talented anchor and reporter, and the program is designed to be quality public affairs television. 'Witness' is public affairs, designed to be top quality – a program that is not only informative, but is also entertaining."

However there was disagreement over the program content and Jana reportedly requested "for more say in selection of stories, more editorial say." Jana spoke to 'Fairfax Media' in November 1996, "I can honestly say I have never seen as cohesive a unit. Ever. The people inside the unit came to the program for one reason: to do commercial current affairs that was better than the rest and I suppose reset some old standards … because they were sick and tired of the obvious abandonment of these values in other mainstream current affairs programs.

"We set a very big goal for the program … that we would take the definition of current affairs TV back to its original meaning. I think that meaning has been distorted almost beyond recognition over the years. We made large claims about restoring the definition, giving stories their proper place and worth, making these news priorities the trademark of the program.

"This was Peter's (Peter Manning) first time coming to commercial TV, and that is a very, very difficult thing to embark on. I had more than 15 years in commercial TV (1979-1996) ... on two of the highest rating current affair shows on TV ('60 Minutes' and 'A Current Affair'). I am well aware of some of the commercial pressures that can be applied. I am not naïve enough to think commercial TV should be like the ABC, but it should be high-quality, eminently watchable.

"It's never my intention to do personality profiles, but I think we should treat them differently from our commercial competitors. OK ... If we’re doing star profiles, it’s wise to approach them with a tad more scepticism. It’s hard to run a program as a mass collective. I think what’s important is the person at the top of the tree reflects the feelings of others on the program. I don’t think I know a person in TV who has fewer management aspirations than I.

"What I want is freedom to walk out of the office, cover the stories I desperately want to cover … People should do what they do best. Reading the autocue is not what I do best ... I was hired to do a very specific program; I wasn't hired to do '60 Minutes' mark 2. I wasn't hired to do anything even approximating that. I think we should be able to tell our audience with a clear conscience that we're a serious program, that we'll be dealing with issues that they deal with seriously, and that we will not be neglecting popular stories."

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