Seven West Media CEO James Warburton (left) & Jeff Howard. PHOTO: Seven West Media.

Mumbrella reports that the CEO and managing director of Seven West Media, James Warburton, has stepped down effective immediately, following today’s board meeting.

While he was originally due to finish up at Seven West towards the end of June, as reported in December, Warburton’s resignation is effective immediately following several recent controversies, including an expenses scandal investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald, a former Spotlight producer claiming the network paid for drugs, sex workers and more to secure an interview with Bruce Lehrmann, and more.

“Current managing director and chief executive officer James Warburton will finish at SWM today … with Jeff Howard commencing in the role on April 19,” a statement to the ASX said on Thursday.

Mr Howard, the company’s chief financial officer, was announced as Mr Warburton’s successor in December and had been due to take up the role on June 30.

Seven West Media’s Chairman, Kerry Stokes AC, and Howard thanked Warburton for his contribution to the business.

The statement to the ASX did not give a reason for Mr Warburton’s earlier than expected departure from the company.

But Seven West Media has faced several scandals recently, including the fallout from the interview with Bruce Lehrmann on its Spotlight program.

Taylor Auerbach, a former senior producer at Spotlight who was Mr Lehrmann’s ‘babysitter’, alleged the pair took drugs and partied with sex workers, with more $10,000 charged back to Seven.

A secret recording of Spotlight’s executive producer Mark Llewellyn during a meeting with staffers of the show spoke of the pressure to “do whatever it takes to get the story”.

Seven is also facing legal proceedings after its Sunrise program wrongly named Benjamin Cohen as the Bondi Junction attacker.

Mr Cohen, who was incorrectly identified as the knife attacker by Seven on Sunday, has engaged two of Australia’s foremost defamation lawyers in Patrick George of Giles George as his solicitor, and Sue Chrysanthou SC as barrister.

Mr Cohen described the experience as “highly distressing” in a video posted over the weekend.

“It’s extremely disappointing to me to see people mindlessly propagating information like this without even the slightest thought put into fact checking,” Mr Cohen said.

“But what’s even more disappointing to me is a major news network doing this, using my name without waiting for a statement from police to verify this or going out to try and verify it themselves.”

Seven issued an on-air apology to Mr Cohen on Sunday, read by reporter Sarah Jane Bell during a live cross.

The company blamed “human error” for the misidentification.

Last week, Nine Media reported that Seven had ordered two separate investigations into claims a small number of staffers at its top-rating breakfast show Sunrise had engaged in fraud.

Mr Warburton served as chief executive at Seven West for four years and had recently spruiked the company’s acquisition of long-term AFL and cricket TV streaming rights.

Seven West Media is owned by Kerry Stokes and based in Western Australia. Its central business is television, but it also owns The West Australian newspaper and launched a new national news publication called The Nightly in February.

The company’s share price has collapsed more than 22 per cent year-to-date for a market capitalisation of about $315m.

The stock jumped in afternoon trading on Thursday following the announcement of Mr Warburton’s sudden departure.

In Melbourne, Channel Seven – HSV-7 – was the city’s and Victoria’s first television broadcaster when it commenced broadcasting on November 4, 1956. It was originally owned by the Herald and Weekly Times.

Updated 1844hrs AEST.

With  for Mumbrella & wires.

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