An astonishing 83 per cent of ABC employees had no faith in the broadcaster’s leadership, an internal poll has revealed, which ultimately became the catalyst of managing director Michelle Guthrie’s sensational sacking on Monday.
The Australian is today reporting the findings of the staff study that showed morale at the public broadcaster had “fallen through the floor”, with staff engagement plunging six per cent to 46 per cent.
According to The Oz, ABC Board members had written to Guthrie earlier this month requesting she resign from her $900,000 a year job and halfway through her five-year tenure. Guthrie refused, reportedly saying she “didn’t want to look like an idiot” by falling on her sword, leaving Board members no alternative but to swing Monday’s axe.
Adding to the disquiet, it’s been ABC employees who’ve been most vocal in their support of Guthrie’s dismissal.
Yesterday, veteran broadcaster Phillip Adams told Fairfax that the news of her departure would promote “dancing in the streets” at the ABC, before adding that he felt Guthrie was a “charmless” person who failed to engage with staff.
Not that Guthrie hasn’t had her defenders, too. Supporters have reportedly been “stunned” by the level of abuse hurled at the 53-year-old since her axing, particularly by ABC staff themselves. One source telling The Oz: “The luvvies and the ABC sisterhood and brotherhood have turned on her badly.”
Nor was Guthrie popular in the hallowed halls of Canberra where she’s been accused of failing to network with bureaucrats, fight for the ABC’s budget and charter, and diffuse repeated claims of bias by ABC journalists.
According to reports in Fairfax Media sites today, the ABC was particularly on the nose with the Coalition who, in turn, used May’s Budget to freeze its funding until 2020.
Cause of most of the consternation was the reporting of the ABC’s chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, which had led the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to table a 1000-word letter with 11 grievances to ABC’s head of news, Gaven Morris.
According to a leaked email obtained by Fairfax, ABC chairman Justin Milne wrote to Guthrie ordering Alberici be sacked following Turnbull’s letter. It’s been reported that Milne and Turnbull are close friends.
“They [the government] hate her,” Milne said in the email “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC – not Emma. There is no guarantee they [the Coalition] will lose the next election.”
Many are now questioning the ABC’s independence. ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy, the host of Insiders, tweeting: “Justin Milne’s exposed rationale behind his stance on a govt complaint goes to the heart of the ABCs independence. And he’s the chairman!”
In other developments:
- It has been revealed that Guthrie’s $900,000 a year contract came with a stipulation that she could be fired without cause or reason.
- Although exact details of Guthrie’s termination have not been made public, it’s believed she is entitled to around one year’s pay. “Ms Guthrie will receive a final payment that will be determined in accordance with her contract of employment. That payment will be disclosed in the ABC annual report,” an ABC spokesperson said.
- More so, the ABC would be loathed to enter into a protracted and public legal battle with the ABC given its reputation for being an inclusive employer.
- However, Guthrie has reportedly hired Sydney barrister, Kate Eastman, SC, who has a fierce reputation for defending corporate woman and taking-on sexual discrimination cases. Guthrie has also employed Ruveni Kelleher, a partner at Johnson, Winter & Slattery, who famously worked with the Seven Network to destroy former employee Amber Harrison during her legal stoush with with network following her affair with the company CEO, Tim Worner.
- Harrison, who has since taken on a role of fighting corporate “boy’s clubs”, has waded into the Guthrie affair, telling The AFR she welcomed Kelleher’s decision to represent Guthrie. “Ruveni Kelleher didn’t represent me – her entire career has been spent defending the old boys club. Defending women is a welcome change for her,” Harrison said.
- Former ABC managing director Jonathan Shier, who himself was sacked back in 2001, yesterday told Sky News’ The Bolt Report, “Basically that there hasn’t been the spine to actually carry out the changes necessary (at the ABC).” Shier also defended Guthrie who had been criticised for her lack of interest in ABC content. Guthrie, Shier said, never went into the ABC “with the intention of bringing major change in the editorial area.”