ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie sacked by the board

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie sacked by the board

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie speaking at a press club luncheon in June. Picture: Aaron Francis
ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie speaking at a press club luncheon in June. Picture: Aaron Francis

Her dismissal comes after months of tension between the managing director and ABC chairman Justin Milne, revealed by The Australian this morning.

The pair have clashed over a number of key projects and how to deal with a hostile Coalition government as the ABC gets set to make a case for its next round of three-year funding.

The ABC said in a statement this morning the board 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”.

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Mr Milne said the board believed that new leadership would benefit the organisation, its dedicated employees, and the ABC’s audiences.

Ms Guthrie will be replaced by David Anderson, ABC head of specialist and factual, as interim managing director.

ABC chairman Justin Milne and Michelle Guthrie. Picture: John Feder
ABC chairman Justin Milne and Michelle Guthrie. Picture: John Feder

“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.

“This decision has been driven by our commitment to deliver best possible outcomes for our loyal audience 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 grateful for her hard work.”

ABC statement on Michelle Guthrie
ABC statement on Michelle Guthrie

The Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, thanked Ms Guthrie and acknowledged her service as managing director of the ABC “in what is a challenging and rapidly changing media environment’’.

“The ABC board today announced the managing director would be leaving the organisation and recruitment for a successor would begin,” Senator Fifield said.

“ABC managing directors are appointed by the board. 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.’’

In a profile in The Weekend Australian Magazine by Meghan Lehmann, soon after taking on the $900,000-a-year job in 2016, Ms Guthrie told an anecdote about the five reasons she should never have been handed the top job at the ABC.

“One: she’s been out of the country for 13 years. Two: she has zero experience in journalism and public broadcasting. Three: she spent 14 years with News Corporation. Four: her most recent job was at tech giant Google. Finally, no woman has held the position in the public broadcaster’s 84-year history,’’ Lehmann wrote.

“It’s a damning inventory. Surprisingly enough, it was compiled by Guthrie herself, and she didn’t keep it in her head either. In what seems a clear case of self-sabotage, the 50-year-old lawyer and media executive presented these five reasons to international head-hunters Egon Zehnder when they came looking for someone to succeed ABC managing director Mark Scott.

“At the end of a successful interview process, she was told that her five objections were the very ­reasons she was hired.’’

Ms Guthrie began her career in Sydney at Allen, Allen & Hemsley, where she specialised in media and technology law, before moving to ­London to work as corporate counsel for BSkyB.

It was the beginning of a 14-year association with Rupert Murdoch’s global empire. After four years, she returned to Sydney as Foxtel’s director of legal and business development, before moving to Hong Kong where she took over from James Murdoch as chief executive of News Corp’s pay TV business, Star.

She resigned from Star in 2007, moving on to become managing director of media-focused private equity firm Providence Equity Partners in Hong Kong.

David Anderson who has been appointed interim managing director of the ABC. Picture: John Feder
David Anderson who has been appointed interim managing director of the ABC. Picture: John Feder

Interim ABC managing director Mr Anderson, a former head of television, is currently director, entertainment and specialist, responsible for broadcast television networks, radio music networks, podcasts and specialist radio content.

“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 ABC Board said it had commenced a formal search process that will involve internal and external candidates.

“By law, managing directors are selected by the ABC Board independently of the Government and Opposition of the day,” the board said.

ABC MANAGING DIRECTORS

The position of managing director has existed since 1984 after it became the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Short tenures are not uncommon despite the job having a five-year term.

 Geoffrey Whitehead: January 1984 to December 1986

 David Hill: 1987-February 1995

 Brian Johns: March 1995-March 2000

● Jonathan Shier: March 2000 to December 2001

 Russell Balding: May 2002-March 2006

 Mark Scott: July 2006-April 2016

 Michelle Guthrie: May 2016-September 2018 – AAP