Ita’s a fighter — and she’ll need to be to save the ABC


More importantly, the Senate inquiry should make recommendations on how to fix the current flawed process of nominations to the board and chair, designed to ensure independence but more often than not bypassed to appoint government cronies.

The first major task that Ita Buttrose will have is to join the existing board in appointing a new managing director to replace Guthrie.

It’s been a time of great turmoil, cutbacks and restructures at the ABC, and Buttrose is correct in observing that the staff and the institution need a period of stability. She could do worse than to appoint the candidate already acting in the role, David Anderson, an executive widely respected inside and outside the ABC, who was groomed by former ABC MD Mark Scott to take the job and was runner-up to Guthrie.

He is a steady pair of hands, with extensive knowledge and a long commitment to the ABC and a deep understanding of the challenges it faces in adapting to the digital revolution enveloping all media. He would probably be a popular choice for the staff, whose morale, not surprisingly, is  near an all-time low.


The staff have kept the ABC on air during the recent past tumultuous years, but they are stretched near breaking point, with a huge departure of experienced colleagues, shrinking budgets, and constant corporate restructures.

It is the staff who have kept faith with the ABC’s audiences, providing quality programming across multiple platforms across the nation, despite the chaos.

The new chair will quickly discover the ABC is a bigger and more complex organisation than even she might have imagined, with its multiple time zones, multiple specialist constituencies and ardent audiences.

And now it must face the digital world to compete with the globalised giants of Netflix, Google, Amazon and others. If Australians are to retain their unique culture across the nation they will need an ABC stronger, cleverer and more engaged with local audiences than ever.

Buttrose’s predecessor, Milne, did not understand the need to maintain the ABC’s independence, urging the sacrifice of individual journalists to please his political masters in government.
But he was right about one thing. The ABC will need more money. A substantial investment will be required to enable it to compete on the global digital stage.

One logical way to find at least some of it is for the government to allow the ABC to retain the money it saves when its terrestrial transmitters – the TV and radio towers across the country – are switched off to go fully digital, and then re-invest that money for the digital infrastructure required.

That requires a funding commitment from Canberra beyond the current on-off triennial arrangements.

A temptation Ita Buttrose must resist is to allow advertising to creep in to the ABC’s offerings, as the digital output blurs some of the traditional broadcasting lines.

She grew up knowing and loving the ABC. Almost certainly, she will have the passion to make it greater.

Matt Peacock is a former staff-elected member of the ABC board and the co-convenor of ABC Alumni.

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