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ABC board sacks managing director Michelle Guthrie


Michelle Guthrie is considering legal action after being sacked as the ABC’s managing director today, with the board declaring it was “not in the best interests” of the public broadcaster for her to continue in the role.

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Board chairman Justin Milne said the transition to a new leader could be disruptive but discussions had been underway for several months.

“Directors resolved that it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation,” he said in a statement today.

“We understand that transitions can be disruptive in the short-term.

“However, the ABC is fortunate to have an experienced and capable executive team that will provide continuity in the months ahead.”

Milne insisted no-one from the government put any pressure on the board to sack her just two-and-a-half years into the job.

“The board felt in the end that her leadership style was not the style that we needed going forward. We needed a different leadership style,” Milne told the ABC.

However, he did say that Guthrie’s relationship with the government was a factor.

“That is possibly an area that could have been better. I think that is fair to say. That said, I think Michelle tried hard and was involved with government,” he said.

“(But) the government, I must say, has provided no pressure, no opinion, has not been involved in this decision. This is entirely a board decision.”

Guthrie said there was no justification for her sacking and that she was considering legal action.

“I am devastated by the board’s decision to terminate my employment despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part,” she said in a statement.

“I believe there is no justification for the board to trigger that termination clause. I am considering my legal options.”

Guthrie, a former Foxtel and Google executive and media lawyer, has been a controversial figure at the ABC as she managed tighter budgets along with leading expansion into new business areas.

David Anderson, a 30-year veteran of the ABC, will be acting managing director while a formal search process involving internal and external candidates begins.

“In resolving to seek fresh leadership, 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,” Milne said.

“This decision has been driven by our commitment to deliver the best possible outcomes for our loyal audiences and the best possible experience for our own people.”

In an email sent to ABC staff, Milne said “a change in leadership does not mean a change in strategy”.

“We appreciate that a change in leadership creates uncertainty, however, we are firmly of the view that this decision is in the best interests of the organisation,” Milne’s email said.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield noted Guthrie’s departure.

“The government thanks Michelle Guthrie and acknowledges her service as managing director of the ABC for the past two-and-a-half years in what is a challenging and rapidly-changing media environment,” Fifield said.

“ABC managing directors are appointed by the board.

“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.”

Guthrie was announced as the new managing director in December 2015, and she began in the role in May 2016

This morning Rupert Murdoch’s national broadsheet, The Australian, reported that a “damaging rift” had developed between Milne and Guthrie over the ABC’s future.

The report suggested there were two “flashpoints” between the pair: the ABC annual public meeting and “Project Jetstream” – an idea designed to provide a “digital infrastructure base” for the ABC in the future when broadcast television shuts down.

Michelle Guthrie’s tumultuous leadership

March 2016: Former media lawyer and Google executive Michelle Guthrie takes over from Mark Scott as the ABC’s managing director. Liberal senator Eric Abetz says she will have to end the “lefty love-in” at the public broadcaster.

October 2016: Guthrie, at a Senate estimates hearing, rejects suggestions made in an opinion piece by former ABC presenter Johnathan Holmes that the public broadcaster is biased towards the left.

February 2017: Both sides of politics criticise Guthrie over a decision to switch off the ABC’s shortwave radio service in the Northern Territory and parts of the Pacific. She insists in a Senate hearing the ABC would still be broadcast via FM and AM frequencies, the viewer access satellite television (VAST) service and online in the areas.

March 2017: The ABC boss announces sweeping changes at the ABC, including axing a fifth of management, spending millions worth of savings on making new content and beefing up the broadcaster’s presence in regional Australia.

November 2017: Guthrie reveals a plan to dismantle the divide between the public broadcaster’s TV, radio and online divisions to instead create content across all platforms.

May 8, 2018: The ABC boss lashes out at federal budget cuts to the broadcaster, saying a proposed $84 million hit can’t be absorbed by efficiency measures alone.

May 24, 2018: Calls for ABC to reconsider its advertising spending, after it was revealed in Senate estimates it had spent $440,000 on Google Ad Words and $1.4 million in Facebook advertising during the year.

June 2018: Guthrie rejects calls from within the Liberal party to privatise the public broadcaster, saying the commercial media sector doesn’t need a new “advertising behemoth”.

August 2018: The ABC faces calls to justify its plans to create new digital lifestyle-focused projects, with free-to-air TV lobby group FreeTV saying lifestyle is “one of the most comprehensively covered market segments in Australian media”.

September 2018: Guthrie is sacked, with the board declaring it is “not in the best interests” of the broadcaster for her to continue in the role.

– with AAP

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