Ranald Macdonald. Meet Mark Scott’s heir apparent, a businesswoman with close ties to the Murdochs.

Dec 21, 2015

“The announcement of Michelle Guthrie as the new ABC supremo by ABC Board Chairman Jim Spigelman is shrewd and just maybe a winner.

Of course, one cannot judge the performance of a driver until she is actually behind the wheel and showing her stuff.

An “A” for innovation, though, for the Board on its decision – and (perhaps) it is an appointment which will not be slammed by the News Empire (after all, M’s Guthrie worked for the Murdochs for some 13 years).

To that I would add, at least a potential “B-plus” for her performance as an administrator, someone with international experience in media and new technology and the excitement of being the first woman to be executive head of our National broadcaster.

Those concerned with the budget cuts, the increasingly Sydney-centric nature of our ABC, the 500 staff reduction and the dreadful impact of the breaking of the Australia Network contract, plus the loss of ‘spread’ around the continent,  know that M’s Guthrie has many challenges filling her inbasket.

(Incidentally, an interesting finding on Q & A was the imbalance on the panels with the Sydney domination, which would have been worse but for Christopher Pyne’s regular appearances! How to stop the ABC becoming the Sydney-ABC?)

For an understanding of the benefits and challenges of the new media, no worries. For living within budget – and perhaps providing government with further budget savings and introducing advertising revenue (will iview be charged for?), perhaps a slightly concerned “B”.

For a commitment to quality programming for all of Australia and fighting for the funds to achieve it, that is a challenge.

As is, how to deal with editorial leadership and defence of independent reporting in the public interest, programming decisions and a commitment to present an authentic Australian voice into SE Asia and the Pacific – and Australians reporting back to us in terms relevant and understandable.

We await outcomes, so with the hope for an improvement of a provisional, but concerned, “C-plus” – though there is an important debate to be held as to whether the job is too multi-faceted for one person and whether an editor-in-chief should be appointed by M’s Guthrie, responsible to her. It would at least provide a shield for journalistic decision-making and choices, which politicians noisily seek to influence.

Anyway, a welcome to the new CEO from ABC Friends – and we hope to meet and discuss where Michelle Guthrie wishes to take the ABC to. We suspend judgement, but my provisional marking on her appointment averages a “B-plus” – without being influenced by the Murdoch years on her C/V.

Ranald Macdonald – former MD of The Age and National Campaign Manager of the ABC Friends.

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