Queensland ABC State Director Chris Wordsworth is in the spotlight because of a rebellion by Brisbane ABC staff over his management style.

Wordsworth is paid $120,000 a year (plus car, office, personal assistant and parking space) to be ABC Managing Director Russell Balding’s Queensland ambassador and local staff have asked that he act on their concerns.

Journalist union members at the ABC’s Toowong site recently passed a motion condemning Mr Wordsworth for “a series of unnecessarily confrontationist, inappropriate and high-handed” actions.

In a separate development, local program managers have passed on their concerns to their superiors in Sydney and asked that they take them to Mr Balding with a request that he act on them.

The program directors are becoming concerned at the impact Mr Wordsworth may be having on staff morale and program quality.

Staff at Toowong have described Mr Wordsworth as being heavy-handed, authoritarian and overly concerned with trivial issues such as parking and security issues to the detriment of program content.

Senior ABC sources have told Crikey Sydney management was receptive to the issues raised and are believed to share some of the concerns.

As State Director, Wordsworth has no authority over local program makers and little other authority or day to day responsibilities on site and staff believe his frustration at this situation has caused him to be heavy-handed with the little power he does have.

Staff confirm Crikey posts back in 2002 that reported Wordworth was regularly overbearing with security guards on site.

The incident that sparked recent developments occurred during the recent series of afternoon thunder storms when a radio technical producer parked his car in a covered parking area reserved for Mr Wordsworth and other managers.

Mr Wordsworth later came to a radio studio to take up the matter with the producer minutes before deadline for a live national radio show and was ordered to leave by the program director.

Crikey has obtained all e-mails and a range of other documents relating to the incident in which Mr Wordsworth attempts to deny going to the studio. However, his version of events is not supported by three other staff present at the time.

As a result, on February 18, journalist members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, unanimously passed a motion condemning “the ABC’s senior management over its handling of a on-site parking issue recently.”

The motion said members were alarmed to learn that Mr Wordsworth “would enter a control room and challenge broadcasters preparing to go to air live with a nationally networked program over a relatively trivial matter”.

It went on: “Members consider this to be the latest in a series of unnecessarily confrontationist, inappropriate and high-handed reactions by Mr Wordsworth over issues affecting operations at the Toowong site.”

It also called on management to “in future respect that our members main priority is broadcasting, not parking”.

In response, Wordsworth wrote back to MEAA seeking to have the resolution over-turned as a “matter of urgency”. Staff refused the request.

Wordsworth claimed the resolution was “false, misleading, unsubstantiated and damaging” and went on to say that the description of his management as “unnecessarily confrontationist, inappropriate and hand-handed” was of particular concern “in light of a current defamation action lodged with the District Court in Brisbane”.

That is a reference to a writ issued by Wordsworth against The Courier-Mail and respected investigative journalist Hedley Thomas, the man who was shot at in his home by a mystery assailant almost two years ago, over his reporting of State Industrial Commission findings relating to Wordsworth’s actions during the sacking of radio presenter Andrew Carroll.

The Commission found that a press release issued by Wordsworth over the sacking included a strategy designed to mislead Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and the ABC audience and contained information that was “simply not true”.

Privately some senior ABC staff have questioned the wisdom of having its “local ambassador” locked in legal action with the State’s only newspaper and one of its best journalists. Carroll went on to be the highest polling Greens candidates in the recent Queensland election.

In rejecting Wordsworth’s request, MEAA members passed a further resolution calling on “Queensland management to observe the tenets of natural justice” in situations where staff have received written reprimands that can be placed on their personal files.

One option open to Russell Balding would be to abolish the $200,000 a year position of State Director, a move that has already occurred in some other states. It is a position with limited responsibility, no power over programs (they report to line managers in Sydney) and little day to day business to be addressed.

Wordsworth was appointed by former ABC Managing Director Jonathon Shier in March 2001 immediately after he left the office of outgoing Defence Minister John Moore.

Some of his Wordsworth’s defenders argue that the ABC if full of lefties and the Brisbane comrades have never been able to come to terms with the fact that he is a former Liberal staffer.

It will be interesting to see how this little power struggle plays out.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW