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

  1. Mangosman

    In Alice Springs today, Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, Stephen Jones MP, joined with Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and the Hon Warren Snowdon MP to announce that a Shorten Labor Government will provide the ABC with $2 million in funding to help re-establish shortwave radio services across the Northern Territory.

    Australians living in remote areas already face significant communications challenges and the loss of access to ABC services from shortwave radio cuts people off from emergency broadcasts as well as being an important connection to the rest of Australia.

    The Liberal Government’s budget cuts to the ABC forced some bad decisions on the organisation, including the decision to cut their shortwave radio transmissions in January 2017.

    Since then, organisations like the NT Government, NT Cattlemen’s Association, Northern Territory Seafood Council representing commercial and tourist fishing businesses, Amateur Fisherman Association, Indigenous Rangers, long haul transport drivers and the Toyota Land Cruiser Club representing Grey Nomads have raised concerns about the loss of these services.

    The Territory is a draw card for grey nomads with around 600,000 visits each year.

    For remote First Nations communities, shortwave radio equipment is relatively cheap to purchase and does not require external power to operate. By contrast, other forms of communication such as mobile phones, TV and broadband all rely on mains power.

    In January 2017, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wrote to then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking him to work with the ABC to restore the shortwave.

    Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion criticised the ABC’s decision but was unable to convince his own government to reverse it, again leaving Territorians without a voice in Cabinet.

    Labor believes that it was premature to cut ABC shortwave radio services and that if the ABC had not been under intense budget constraints, this decision would never have been made.

    Labor has been campaigning against the ABC’s decision to cease shortwave transmissions since it was announced in mid-December 2016. We know how important shortwave is, that’s why we are switching it back on.

    By switching the shortwave back on a Shorten Labor Government will ensure, towns, communities and travellers are connected to the rest of the nation.

    Labor’s funding commitment of $2 million to restore ABC shortwave services is in addition to Labor’s commitment to reverse the Morrison Government’s $83.7 million unfair cut to the ABC, as well as our guarantee of funding certainty over the next ABC budget cycle.

    Some background to the story.
    It is proposed by the opposition and the next general election is in November next year.

    There are now huge areas of northern and Central Australia which contain no broadcast radio or cell phone signals at all with the exception of international HF broadcasters.

    Those who live in these areas have the option of a satellite TV service containing 5 TV broadcasters each with multiple channels and a wide range of government owned radio programs. Unfortunately, the satellite dish must be accurately pointed at the satellite and to listen to the radio the viewer must select the ABC TV signal.(Other TV broadcasters are on different transponders and frequencies). Some villages have a satellite receiver and one or a pair of very low powered FM transmitters, which only cover the village and if they are lucky, they may also have a cell phone tower with roughly the same coverage area.

    As a result, as soon as you leave home or your village in a vehicle or boat, there is no live radio hence no sport, news, emergency warnings for cyclones (tornadoes) and huge bushfires. There is around 600,000 people live in remote Australia excluding tourists, prospectors and farm hands.

    Satellite phones are used, but there is no broadband data available, and phone calls are $AU3 = $US 2.19 =1pound70/ minute

    Tennant Creek had/has a 50 kW DRM capable transmitter. It will need to be fed with a digital signal if the Emergency warnings and maps are to be broadcast.

    There is much lower powered Bureau of Meteorology HF transmitters in Wiluna WA and Charlieville Qld which transmit audible marine forecasts in speech and using and analog fax format.

  2. 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…

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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