No government conspiracy, say leading ABC talent as the national broadcaster’s board of directors decides on a leadership reset. Michelle Guthrie says there was no justification for triggering her contract termination clause.
In a statement published this morning, the ABC board announced that Michelle Guthrie would be departing from the role of Managing Director immediately.
Guthrie was halfway through her five-year contract.
The managing director and the board were preparing for the national broadcaster’s three-year funding arrangement that must be agreed before the next federal budget.
Chairman Justin Milne said in the statement that the board believed that new leadership would benefit the organisation, its dedicated employees and the ABC’s audiences.
“In resolving to seek fresh leadership, the Board’s foremost consideration was the long-term interests of our own people and the millions of Australians who engage with ABC content every week,” Milne said.
“This decision has been driven by our commitment to deliver the best possible outcomes for our loyal audiences and the best possible experience for our own people.
“We understand that transitions can be disruptive in the short-term. However, the ABC is fortunate to have an experienced and capable executive team that will provide continuity in the months ahead.
“The board wishes to thank Michelle for her contribution to the ABC. We are very grateful for all her hard work.”
Milne later appeared on ABC News this morning and said the board had been questioning Guthrie’s ongoing employment for several months, and felt the ABC “would do better under different leadership”
“It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes it takes a while for it not to work out. So, in this case the board decided that it wasn’t working out and decided that we should do a reset and that is what we have decided to do,” Milne said.
David Anderson, currently Director, Entertainment and Specialist, will act as MD until the role is filled on a permanent basis following a formal search process.
“I recognise the challenges involved in transitions of this kind but I am honoured to accept the Board’s invitation and look forward to working with our outstanding people to execute our strategy,” Anderson said in the ABC board’s statement.
Guthrie in response to the sacking said she was considering her legal options, as no claim of wrongdoing on her part has been cited in the dismissal.
“I am devastated by the Board’s decision to terminate my employment despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part.
“When I joined ABC in 2016, I knew I had an enormous challenge in front of me to break down some of the internal barriers to progress as well as continuing to deliver quality programming for all Australians. In the first two years of my five-year term, I have invested more in investigative journalism; more in regional journalism; more in innovative content; and increased the efficiency and effectiveness of work across the ABC.
“As the first female Managing Director of the ABC, I felt a tremendous responsibility and unique privilege to lead Australia’s most important cultural institution. At all times I have promoted the ABC’s importance to the community, including having to defend and protect the ABC’s independence.
“The ABC Act fixes the term of appointment of the Managing Director at five years. My term concludes on 4 July 2021. While my contract permits the Board to terminate my appointment without cause and with immediate effect, I believe there is no justification for the Board to trigger that termination clause. I am considering my legal options.
“I wanted to continue the transformation of the ABC and to support the great work of ABC’s dedicated and passionate employees to ensure our continuing trust, quality and distinctiveness as the source of Australian culture, conversations and stories. To me, it is the content produced by the ABC that is of primary importance to Australians, with the technology used At deliver that content a distant second.
“At no point have any issues been raised with me about the transformation being undertaken, the Investing in Audiences strategy and my effectiveness in delivering against that strategy.
“The ABC is a great Australian institution that has the trust and support of the great majority of Australians. I wish everyone at the ABC every success in the future as they continue their mission to keep all Australians informed and entertained.”
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison both noted that the ABC board has legislated independence in relation to management appointments.
Fifield said the government respects the duty and role of the board in these matters.
“The government thanks Michelle Guthrie and acknowledges her service as Managing Director of the ABC for the past two and a half years in what is a challenging and rapidly changing media environment,” Fifield said in a statement.
ABC figures weigh in
Senior ABC talent, including Sally Neighbour, executive producer of 4 Corners, and ABC Melbourne presenter Jon Faine were among those who immediately praised the decision.
Excellent decision https://t.co/Xzo14iRDcM
— Sally Neighbour (@neighbour_s) September 24, 2018
Jon Faine told his audience that he personally had two conversations with Guthrie “about why she would not be our champion, why she would not engage. She said ‘It’s not my style’.”
I haven’t a clue why Guthrie’s been sacked. But there’s no wicked Murdoch or IPA plot. It doesn’t work like that. More likely the huge financial black hole that’s opened up at the ABC and some whacky management stunts she pulled. Basically, she knew SFA about broadcasting.
— Mike Carlton (@MikeCarlton01) September 24, 2018
Union wants external critics to pause
Katelin McInerney, director of MEAA Media, said Guthrie’s two-and-a-half years as managing director “would unfortunately be remembered for historically low levels of funding culminating in the loss of $84 million in this year’s budget, hundreds of redundancies, unprecedented political attacks on the ABC’s independence and low staff morale.”
“It is no secret the ABC is caught in the pincers – between the need to invest in an ever-changing media landscape, and a decline in real funding to historically low levels,” McInerney said.
“The next managing director of the ABC will face real challenges, including how to restore the trust and confidence of staff by ending the “Hunger Games” processes, casualisation, and outsourcing which in four years have seen more than 1000 experienced workers leave the organisation.
“They must have a clear vision for the ABC and be able to articulate the direction they want to take the organisation.
“They must be a vocal public advocate for the ABC, who is prepared to tackle head-on the historically low levels of ABC funding with meaningful engagement with the Federal Government.
“They must be 100% committed to public broadcasting and to fend off any attempts to privatise the ABC either directly or by stealth.
“They must be a champion for quality Australian content and specialist content and a staunch defender of the ABC’s independence and of its editorial staff. This includes refocusing daily journalism away from lifestyle content and ‘clickbait’ and back towards news and current affairs.
“Importantly, the ABC board must also be prepared to back the staff of the ABC and the integrity of the ABC as a respected publicly-owned institution in the face of unrelenting political attacks.
“MEAA will shortly be writing to the incoming MD to seek positive engagement and consultation on the above issues, and hope to involve our members with an improved dialogue with management on the challenges the ABC faces.
“We feel it is time for a new vision and new direction for the ABC to emerge, allowing journalists and content makers to get on with the job of serving audiences with the content they trust.”