Michelle Guthrie sacked as board seeks “fresh leadership” and focus on “long-term interests” of ABC engagement

(Source: The Interpreter via Michael Taniwha)

Restoring Australia’s Pacific media presence

by Kevin McQuillan

The departure of ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie just two-and-a-half years into her five-year term reflects the board’s decision to seek “fresh leadership”, according to Chairman Justin Milne. Announcing Guthrie’s sacking today, Milne said “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”.

What Milne didn’t talk about was the millions of listeners, viewers and online visitors to the ABC who have been lost since the federal government and the ABC itself made cuts to its international output. The appointment of a new Managing Director opens up the opportunity for Guthrie’s replacement to re-engage the ABC with its international audience, particularly in the Pacific.

As respected former international broadcasting executives Ian MacIntosh and Bruce Dover pointed out last month on The Interpreter: “Australia’s international voice, once strong, influential and broadcast across much of the Asia Pacific, has become little more than a croak into the ether.”

The demise of a strong Australian media voice throughout the Pacific has seen Radio NZ Pacific (formerly Radio NZ International) become the dominant international media outlet in the south-west Pacific, Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. Lurking in the background is Radio China International, which has taken many of the ABC’s shortwave frequencies, and is reportedly spending billions in foreign language programming to boost its presence.[…]

Click here to read the full article at The Interpreter.

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6 thoughts on “Michelle Guthrie sacked as board seeks “fresh leadership” and focus on “long-term interests” of ABC engagement

  1. Mark Fahey

    Just a pointer to ensure non-Australian residents don’t take this blog opinion post from the Interpreter out of perspective. The Interpreter is not a news outlet, it’s the online blog of an Australian Think-Tank / Lobby Group.

    The sacking of Michelle Guthrie has been very big news in Australia this week.

    The sacking had nothing to do with Radio Australia or shortwave.

    After the sacking Justine Milne the ABC Chairman who sacked Guthrie was driven to resign his Chairmanship due to a related backlash from both the public and ABC staff. The situation is very fluid and complex and revolves around allegations of government trying to interfere in the independence of the ABC.

    1. RonF

      Mark, as usual, has it 100% correct ;). Without getting too much into politics, The Interpreter is the blog of the Lowy Institute, a foreign policy think-tank with a generally neoliberal/centre-right bent. That said they _are_ one of the less hard-ideological think tanks in the Australian political sphere, and generally (with the exception of a couple of subjects) produce work that is at least supportable by considered argument.

      And yes, the sacking of Guthrie / resignation of Milne / allegations of political interference / “more to come…” has been big news in Australia for the last week or so. Unlike a lot of others, both inside & outside of the ABC, I think I gave her a fair go – from what I knew of her history she wasn’t the type to allow herself to be played as a pawn, and the ABC has a long history of partisan-appointed MD’s & board members ‘going native’ and becoming staunch defenders of government-funded public broadcasting. But she was undoubtedly arrogant, and her ill-prepared Senate Estimates appearances showed just how harmful that was to both the ABC and its relationship to the Government.

      That said, it’s been interesting this last week or so to see the number of long-dormant or brand-new “American” accounts that’ve started posting on various Australian blogs, forums, & policy discussion groups – and mostly pushing hard-line ‘small government’ / isolationist / ‘Make Australia Great Again’ 😉 talking-points. Even the TV blogs & vintage radio groups aren’t immune. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if there’s some degree of organisation behind it…

  2. Laurence N.

    Really? I don’t doubt that a lot of people used the shortwave output, and were disappointed when it closed. Still, a lot of places that the former services were targeted have easy access to ABC media through other channels (online, local relays, satellite). The shutting down of one transmitting site doesn’t make Australia vanish off the map. When alternatives to shortwave appeared, I have no doubt that many former listeners to ABC shortwave started using something else to listen. Instead of assuming that everything relies on that one shortwave site, perhaps it’s worth considering the many other things that the ABC were doing and have either stopped or cut back. Or, perhaps, we could go to the islands in the Pacific and see what specific changes those people dislike so much, and focus on those? Just because the readers here (myself included) enjoyed receiving Radio Australia on our shortwave radios doesn’t mean that the ABC were transmitting to us (they weren’t).

    1. Keith Perron

      It reminds me of my first visit to PNG, Vanuatu, Gilbert Islands and Fiji around 10 years ago. And then going back early this year and see the changes that have taken place. Even at he government hearing they had into the cuts the ABC made to Radio Australia shortwave. There was virtually no response from the audience in the target. Nearly all the letters and emails that came into the ABC were from DXERS and SWLs in Europe and North America. These responses were all disqualified, since they came from listeners who do not reside in the region of Radio Australia’s target audience. Same would be said when the day comes that Radio New Zealand International drops shortwave.

  3. Kire

    After reading comments on this blog by much more knowledgable SWL’ers, i tempered my hopes for Radio Australia to come back to the shortwaves, but.. I am glad Miss Guthrie is being sacked so quickly after, tho sometimes the damage a typhoon wreaks, lasts long after the initial pass.
    May ABC find a good, competent, headperson with the vision to bring ABC programming back-from what i learned through the process is that ABC has other issues beyond the shortwave situation.
    I do think however that the blowback from her decision to cut shortwave (yep, i put the blame solely on the head dog) was unanticipated. I am sure that whenever Australian officials traveled in the former pacific areas where Radio Australia USED to broadcast, they got an earful, and that the little underappreciated shortwave station was a bit more important than many thought. I know i for one, told most Australians i met, that i missed their former station.
    Like the article says New Zealand and China are big boys, while Australia kind of is retreating.

  4. Troy Riedel

    IMO, the key statement in the article is:

    “Pacific people will assume New Zealand doesn’t care, and base their views on what they’re told by the loud voices of commercialism and propaganda,” said former RNZ Pacific Station Manager Ian Johnstone. “The worst fate for anyone hoping to promote a positive view of themselves or their actions, is not to be heard.”

    Insert [Australia] – or any country – in lieu of “New Zealand”.

    Shortwave may not be new, cutting edge technology but it still has its purpose, its unique usefulness. For Australia, its a piece of the pie that once eaten [and the oven is disassembled] … well, it’s something that you’ll likely never be able to recover.


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