Underbelly: articles

Legal row threatens Nine epic series Underbelly

THE future of Channel Nine's $13 million blockbuster Underbelly could be decided by last-minute legal proceedings beginning today.

Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Rapke has secured an urgent viewing of the series before he decides whether to seek an injunction stopping its broadcast in Victoria.

A Supreme Court Judge has called prosecutors and defence lawyers together after serious concerns were raised about the program.

The man is to stand trial later this year over a gangland killing. He has pleaded not guilty.

"I believe (the judge) is aware of the concerns," a source familiar with the case said.

Although the accused is not named in Underbelly, due to start next Wednesday, there are concerns that his portrayal could pollute the jury.

"We have a trial starting… We want to pick a jury and begin that trial. My view is that the courts run the system, not Channel Nine," a lawyer for the accused told the Herald Sun.

The program, hailed by pundits as Nine's attempt to drag itself out of the television ratings doldrums, has cost $1 million per episode and generated unprecedented hype for a drama series.

A spokesman for the Director of Public Prosecutions would not comment on today's proceedings.

"The Director has not yet had an opportunity to preview the program and as such is not yet in a position to comment as to whether he would consider seeking an injunction in relation to any or all of the program," the spokesman said.

"This position may alter after the Director has previewed the program. He hopes to preview some of the program shortly.

Use of images of Tony Mokbel have also caused worries, with the bail-jumping drug dealer's face to be obscured and references to his name removed, to be replaced with the identity Mr B.

Broadcast to other states and territories will not be altered.

Mokbel, who is in a Greek Prison, will face 20 charges, including two of murder, when he is returned to Melbourne, where he claims he will not be able to get a fair trial because of publicity.

Lawyer Mirko Bagaric, who represented him during extradition proceedings last year, said the producers of Underbelly needed to be careful to stay with proven facts.

"If it is untested evidence, that could subject them to contempt of court proceedings," Mr Bagaric.

Producer Screentime's executive director Des Monaghan has refused to say whether last-minute legal advice had prompted the need for any further editing of the program.

"I just don't comment on legal speculation," Mr Monaghan said yesterday.

Mr Monaghan would not be drawn on speculation that the pending extradition of key gangland figure Mokbel would require a rethink on how he is portrayed in the drama, to avoid prejudicing his trial.

By Mark Buttler and Mark Dunn
February 07, 2008
The Daily Telegraph