25 September 2018
ABC Friends National President, Margaret Reynolds, has issued a statement regarding the removal, by the ABC Board, of Managing Director Michelle Guthrie, who was half-way into her contract.
Margaret Reynolds said:
The sudden decision by the ABC Board to terminate Michelle Guthrie’s tenure as Managing Director is regrettable and creates more uncertainty for the public broadcaster at a time when it is undergoing major funding cutbacks and working to adapt to a disruptive media environment.
Ms Guthrie was constantly challenged by staff, media and political critics throughout her time in the top job. She attempted major reform by cutting middle management and returning those resources to regional services. But of course her task of managing fewer resources while strengthening digital output was almost impossible. She made some unpopular decisions and was not prepared for the constant public spotlight on her role .
It is unfortunate that one of the reasons given for her termination was the perceived failure to work with the Coalition Government.
ABC Friends are more interested in any ABC Managing Director being able to work in the best interests of all Australians who essentially must insist their representatives in Canberra value the ABC and ensure it is properly funded and allowed to be free of political interference.
It is important to acknowledge the positive work Ms Guthrie has initiated and to question what lessons should be learned for strengthening the ABC
Firstly neither Ms Guthrie nor indeed ABC Board members have strong credentials or experience in broadcasting or public interest journalism.
Board members do come from a range of backgrounds but their expertise is more corporate than media.
Secondly the single role of Managing Director is all encompassing so the person is expected to have financial, political, diplomatic, industrial relations, broadcasting and editorial expertise. And of course they need the patience of a saint in juggling the expectations of so many within the organisation, media competitors, political opportunists not to mention the general public!!
Thirdly it is vital that in considering a future appointment, the ABC Board recognise the need for a separate senior position of Editor in Chief to ensure the ABC maintains its high standards for news, investigative reporting and current affairs programming
Finally governments must not treat Board appointments as opportunities to reward their supporters but instead must conduct rigorous independent searches to locate members with the skills required for overseeing the national public broadcaster.