It appears ousted ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie is finding few supporters after she was sensationally terminated from the role yesterday, half-way through her contentious five-year term.
Media reports today have been scathing of Guthrie’s style and leadership, suggesting she had little interest in content at the public broadcaster, had poor management and people skills, was promoted well over her skill set, failed to liaise with her Canberra chieftains, and preferred watching mindless reality shows such as Googlebox on the commercial networks to anything the ABC produced.
Adding to her woes, Guthrie had seen over a number of staff redundancies that had seen morale collapse, while she was apparently obsessed with taking the ABC’s content younger despite its predominately Baby Boomer audience.
Things had reportedly become so bad that Guthrie had been sidelined from many of her duties and had basically been a “dead woman walking” for the past five months.
And its her ABC colleagues that appear most joyful in the 53-year-old’s dismissal.
Outspoken ABC Melbourne radio host Jon Faine kicked things off yesterday, telling his radio audience that Guthrie’s tenure as managing director had been “an astonishing fail” which had led to a collapse in morale at the broadcaster.
Faine revealed many at the ABC were initially “excited” when Guthrie got the top job in December 2015, before adding: “But the expiration of the first year it became clear she was only interested in a very small parts of what the organisation did. She would not take on her role as a champion for this organisation. It’s an astonishing fail on her part.”
Veteran Four Corners journalist Sally Neighbour tweeted her joy at Guthrie’s demise, saying it was an “excellent decision”.
While radio broadcaster Phillip Adams told Fairfax Media: “Generally, there’ll be dancing in the streets.” Adams added that he thought Guthrie was a “charmless” person and rarely engaged with staff. “She didn’t walk the corridors. She just wasn’t around the place,” Adams said.
While ABC Sydney news presenter Juanita Phillips was more circumspect: “Whoever the next MD is, they need a deep understanding of the history, purpose and importance of an independent public broadcaster, and be ready to fight bare-knuckled to protect it.”
In a withering assessment of Guthrie’s tenure, a feature article in today’s The Australian suggested that Guthrie – an ex-Google and Foxtel executive – was out of her depth from the moment she arrived at the broadcaster.
The Oz quotes a former ABC executive producer who said: “She kept telling us all the time her favourite program was Gogglebox, and why couldn’t we have more cheap shows like that? She rarely watched the news. This was the woman who was head of the public broadcaster for fuck’s sake.”
Another unnamed insider added: “There was total bewilderment over at Google when Guthrie got the job [as managing director].
“She had gone to Google with a good-looking CV, too, but apparently she was such a disappointment there as well that she had been sidelined on special projects in Singapore with just a handful of direct reports. She wasn’t in a senior role.”
While another said Guthrie “was obsessed with reach but had little interest in quality or content. She just didn’t understand public broadcasting or public interest journalism” that had led to a revolt in the broadcaster’s newsrooms.
Meanwhile, an opinion piece by Jacqueline Maley in the Fairfax press today said that Guthrie had required extensive training from private consultancy firms such was her inability to perform at Senate estimate hearings and champion the work of the ABC among federal politicians.
“As the head of a public broadcaster that talks to millions of Australians every week, Guthrie was regarded by many as a poor communicator herself, according to multiple sources within the ABC,” Maley wrote.
“Guthrie’s relationship with Malcolm Turnbull’s office was very poor, with sources within the office complaining she was not in Canberra enough, and did not communicate her vision well to the prime minister and his communications minister Mitch Fifield,” she added.
Under Guthrie’s watch the relationship between Canberra and the ABC soured to the extent it had its funding frozen for three years at a cost of $84 million to the bottom line.
Maley’s article quotes another ABC staffer who said: “Given the way the ABC has been treated the last two years, she can’t be doing particularly well. If you have an MD who is engaging well with Canberra, we wouldn’t be the target of relentless attacks from Canberra and News [Corp].”
Yesterday, communications minister Mitch Fifield thanked Guthrie for her service “in what is a challenging and rapidly changing media environment”.
Fifield added that the directors who sacked Guthrie were appointed by the ABC Board and not the government.
“The ABC Board has legislated independence in relation to management appointments and the Government respects the duty and role of the Board in these matters,” he said.
When asked his opinion on Guthrie’s removal, prime minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney yesterday: “It’s not for me to agree or not agree. It’s their job. They made their decision and they’re responsible for it.”
Even the ABC-baiting Pauline Hanson chimed-in, tweeting: “This seems like a great chance to bring in someone who will help the ABC become more fair and balanced” before nominating Sky News presenter Paul Murray for the job.
For her part, Guthrie has said she was “devastated” by the Board’s decision to sack her and has reportedly called in prominent Sydney lawyers to take legal action against her former employer. Given Guthrie was on a salary close to $900,000 a year and still had two-and-a-half years left on her contract, meaning any payout will likely be in the millions (of taxpayer’s money).
According to reports on ABC’s 7pm news last night, the broadcaster will now launch a global search for Guthrie’s replacement with an announcement expected by Christmas. Current acting managing director David Anderson remains the favourite to take the job.
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