ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie sacked
A “DEVASTATED” Michelle Guthrie is threatening legal action against the ABC after its shock decision to sack her as managing director today.
In a blistering statement just before midday, Ms Guthrie said she believed there was “no justification” for the ABC board’s decision to terminate her contract halfway through her five year term at the helm.
“I am devastated by the Board’s decision to terminate my employment despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part,” she said, noting that the board had “at no point” raised any issues with her about the ABC’s transformation under her direction.
Ms Guthrie was just halfway through her five-year term at the helm when the board made a call to dismiss her.
According to the ABC’s own information, Ms Guthrie had a total salary package of $890,987 for the financial year ending June 2017. She told a Senate Committee last October she was the highhest paid person at the national broadcaster.
ABC staff were notified of the news of her sacking by email today.
“The ABC Act fixes the term of appointment of the Managing Director at five years,” Ms Guthrie said.
“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.”
Ms Guthrie added that from the time she was appointed in 2016, she knew it would be an “enormous challenge” to break “down some of the internal barriers to progress” in the ABC, while “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,” she said.
She noted that at all times, she had promoted the ABC’s importance to the Australian community, “including having to defend and protect the ABC’s independence”.
“I wanted to continue the transformation of the ABC and to support the great work of the ABC’s dedicated and passionate employees to ensure our continuing trust, quality and distinctiveness as the source of Australian culture, conversations and stories,” Ms Guthrie said.
“To me, it is the content produced by the ABC that is of primary importance to Australians, with the technology used to 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 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.”
ABC EMPLOYEES REACTION TO SACKING
A number of ABC employees have taken to Twitter to respond to Guthrie’s shock sacking, with Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour explosively saying it was an “excellent decision”.
Her controversial tweet has sent social media into a spin, garnering nearly 300 likes in an hour as several users have commended her for calling Guthrie out, while others have begged her to elaborate.
There are also several people who have jumped into bat for the outgoing boss.
Former ABC Russian correspondent and both radio and TV broadcaster Monica Attard defended Guthrie, encouraging people to remember she is a human being with feelings.
Federal political reporter Jane Norman wrote “wow” as she posted the media release, while current affairs talkback presenter Rafael Epstein claimed Guthrie was “not a good communicator”.
ABC’s The Drum contributor Josh Borstein said Guthrie was “likely to be traumatised” following the sacking.
On radio, ABC presenter Jon Faine attacked her saying her time at the national broadcaster was an “astonishing fail”.
Faine made his remarks minutes after it was announced the ABC board had shown Guthrie the door, saying the former managing director had “no interest in journalism” or the “nuts and bolts” of the public broadcaster.
“She came in here, to the ABC, and was given the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “Most of us were excited that a woman – a woman who had a history of media engagement in our region and a woman clearly on top of new media – was going to be at the helm.
“The first time I met her I thought she was very charming. She was clearly very smart. But the expiration of the first year it became clear she was only interested in a very small parts of what the organisation did.
“She would not take on her role as a champion for this organisation. It’s an astonishing fail on her part.”
He added: “She was obsessed with platforms, structures, flowcharts,” he said. “Astonishing. Absolutely astonishing.
“It’s been intense behind the scenes at this organisation. She’s been all but invisible, I might say, for a very long time.”
SACKING WAS A BOARD DECISION: CHAIRMAN
The chairman of the ABC, Justin Milne, and the board made the decision to sack her.
“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 in ABC content every week,” Mr Milne said in a statement.
“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,” Mr Milne concluded.
According to the statement, the decision follows discussions over several months that concluded when directors resolved that it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation.
FIFIELD THANKS GUTHRIE FOR HER SERVICE
Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield responded to the ABC’s shock announcement with a brief statement thanking Ms Guthrie for her service over the past two and a half years “in what is a challenging and rapidly changing media environment”.
Mr Fifield added that managing directors were appointed by the ABC Board, not government.
“The ABC Board has legislated independence in relation to management appointments and the Government respects the duty and role of the Board in these matters,” he said.
Ms Guthrie, a former Foxtel and Google executive and media lawyer, has been a controversial figure at the ABC as she managed tighter budgets along with leading expansion into new business areas.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on whether he agreed with the decision to sack Ms Guthrie.
“It’s not for me to agree or not agree. It’s their job. They made their decision and they’re responsible for it,” he told reporters in Sydney today.
Mr Morrison said he had been advised of the decision by his communication’s minister last night.
He added that the board would have “gone through all the proper processes to make the decision”.
“I want to see an ABC that’s strong and doing its job and that’s well run. That’s what the board is responsible for,” Mr Morrison said.
DAVID ANDERSON TO ACT IN TOP ROLE
The ABC Board has now invited David Anderson to serve as Acting Managing Director until the role is filled on a permanent basis in coming months.
Mr Anderson is currently Director, Entertainment & Specialist, responsible for broadcast television networks and associated services, radio music networks, podcasts and specialist radio content.
He has enjoyed a successful career in the broadcast television and media industry for nearly 30 years.
“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,” Mr Anderson said.
The formal search for a new managing director has begun that will involve internal and external candidates.
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, a vocal critic of the ABC for alleged bias, said the ABC’s decision was a “great chance to bring in someone who will help the ABC become more fair and balanced”.
She suggested conservative Sky News commentator Paul Murray.
REPORTING UNDER SCRUTINY
The ABC’s reporting has been under the microscope this year amid allegations by conservative commentators and MPs of bias.
There have also been calls for the ABC to be privatised.
In June, then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull criticised the broadcaster for being too left-leaning and said he was disappointed by the quality of its journalism and “lack of accuracy” in recent times.
At the time, an ABC spokeswoman responded by saying the Prime Minister was “entitled to his opinions” but that the broadcaster had the “highest editorial standards of any media organisation in Australia”.
She also revealed the ABC had received seven complaints from the PM’s Office and Mr Fifield over nine pieces of content between January and June. Four items were found by the ABC to have had “errors or misjudgements”.
“To put that into context, so far this year the ABC has published more than 15,000 online stories and broadcast more than 250,000 hours of content,” the spokeswoman said.
Ms Guthrie also personally hit out at claims of bias in a major speech in June, saying the public regarded the broadcaster as one of Australia’s “great national institutions” and “deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests”.
Amid debate over bias, the federal government announced in the May budget that it would be freezing the ABC’s annual funding indexation for three years from July 2019.
The measure amounts to an $84 million funding cut for the ABC.
LABOR’S RESPONSE TO GUTHRIE SACKING
Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland praised Ms Gurthrie’s transformation of the ABC at a time the broadcaster had been under an “unprecedented attack” from the federal government.
But she also acknowledged that the board had made an independent decision to sack Ms Guthrie.
“Michelle Guthrie instigated a major transformation of the ABC to adapt to the digital age at the same time the Liberal Government launched an unprecedented attack on ABC independence, both financially and ideologically,” Ms Rowland said.
“Michelle Guthrie is an experienced and highly-skilled media executive. Labor thanks her for her contribution to the national broadcaster and wishes her well for the future,” she said.
The Labor frontbencher added that ABC staff had been working in an “environment of enormous uncertainty” amid its own corporate transformation and a funding cut of $83.7 million, and that Labor would be watching upcoming funding negotiations closely.