CBS probes misconduct sexual misconduct allegations against CEO Moonves amid legal battle

CBS says it is investigating sexual misconduct charges against its long-time CEO, Les Moonves.
File photo showing CBS President Leslie Moonves who is under investigation for claims of personal misconduct.
File photo showing CBS President Leslie Moonves who is under investigation for claims of personal misconduct.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US broadcasting and media company CBS Corp said it was investigating claims of personal misconduct by its chief executive Leslie Moonves made in a New Yorker magazine article that was published on Friday (July 27).

The allegations against Mr Moonves surfaced as he is locked in a legal battle over control of CBS with the company's largest shareholder, National Amusements Inc, owned by Ms Shari Redstone and her father Sumner, who also control media company Viacom .

The New Yorker report featured claims against Mr Moonves from six women spanning different time periods over two decades, from 1985 to 2006. The allegations included sexual assault and unwanted advances.

Reuters could not independently verify the accusations against Mr Moonves.

"I recognise that there were times decades ago when I may have made some women uncomfortable by making advances," Mr Moonves said in an e-mailed statement to Reuters.

"Those were mistakes, and I regret them immensely," Mr Moonves said. "But I always understood and respected - and abided by the principle - that 'no' means 'no', and I have never misused my position to harm or hinder anyone's career. This is a time when we all are appropriately focused on how we help improve our society, and we at CBS are committed to being part of the solution."

One of the women in the story was identified as actress Illeana Douglas. Ms Douglas' publicist Danny Deraney confirmed her comments in the story.

"Real change will occur when victims of sexual assaults are not stigmatised as whistle blowers, or people with some kind of agenda for coming forward," Ms Douglas said in a statement.

"Speaking for myself, real change will occur when I can walk through the front doors of CBS and resume the creative and working relationship that was so tragically cut short in 1997," she added.

According to the New Yorker, 30 current and former CBS employees described harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation for refusing sexual advances at the company.

CBS said in a statement that it takes each report of misconduct very seriously but it does not believe "the picture of our Company created in The New Yorker represents a larger organisation that does its best to treat its tens of thousands of employees with dignity and respect".

Earlier on Friday, before the New Yorker article was published, CBS said in a statement that its board would promptly review the findings and take appropriate action.

COMBINATION WITH VIACOM

Mr Moonves, 68, joined CBS in 1995 as president of CBS Entertainment and has been CEO since 2006. He is widely credited with turning CBS into one of the top-performing US media companies.

Mr Moonves clashed with Ms Shari Redstone earlier this year over her bid to merge CBS with Viacom Inc, also owned by National Amusements. Mr Moonves resisted that deal because he believed CBS's prospects were better without taking on Viacom's turnaround challenges.

A CBS board committee in May turned down the potential merger with Viacom and sued to strip National Amusements of its control of CBS.

Ms Redstone is challenging a plan by CBS to issue a special dividend aimed at cutting National Amusements' voting power in the company to 17 per cent from 80 per cent.

The trial in a Delaware court is expected to start in October.

Before the story was published, a spokesman for National Amusements Inc said, "(Shari) Redstone hopes that the investigation of these allegations is thorough, open and transparent."

The spokesman declined to comment further. Viacom also declined to comment.

Combining CBS, which owns cable networks including Showtime as well as the CBS TV Network and CBS TV Studios, with Viacom, whose businesses include Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV, would have more negotiating leverage with cable and satellite companies, analysts said.

Viacom shares ended up 4.5 per cent at US$29.35 (S$39.97) on Friday, while CBS shares closed about 6 per cent lower at US$54.01, as investors speculated that the chances of a merger between the two companies had increased.

#METOO SOCIAL MEDIA MOVEMENT

Multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against politicians, business leaders and entertainers in the United States have been made in the past year, leading to resignations, often inspired by the #MeToo social movement.

Veteran TV journalist Charlie Rose, 76, was fired by CBS in November after being accused by more than 10 women of sexual misconduct. Mr Rose apologised for inappropriate behaviour but questioned the accuracy of some of the accounts. Reuters could not independently verify the accusations.

Mr Moonves has been married since 2004 to Ms Julie Chen, a CBS news anchor and TV host.

Ms Chen tweeted on Friday that she stands by Mr Moonves and that he is a "good man and a loving father, devoted husband and inspiring corporate leader".

The author of the New Yorker article, Mr Ronan Farrow, previously has written reports that contributed to the resignation of Hollywood movie producer Harvey Weinstein from his film and TV studio.

More than 70 women, mostly actresses and other women employed in the movie business, have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape, in a series of incidents dating back decades.

Weinstein has denied the accusations.