The latest boardroom ructions at the ABC have all the intrigue of a
great Crikey story encompassing politics, business and the media, but not
all sections of the media were as interested in the story as Crikey:

Just how hard is it to manage the ABC? The Communications
portfolio has been contentious of late – to say the least – and now ASX
chairman Maurice Newman has announced he will quit the ABC board at the
end of the month.

Newman said his decision was motivated by a gross breach of
boardroom confidentiality by staff-elected representative Ramona Koval,
who wrote to ABC managing director Russell Balding in May raising
concerns about the ABC’s decision to employ Rehame to monitor its TV
and radio broadcasts for political bias.

Most damning of all was that the letter that was later leaked to the
ABC’s Media Watch, which aired the media monitoring saga to the public.

Newspapers were divided over the importance of the story this
morning, with little consensus between them on the placement of the
story.

The Australian had the most comprehensive coverage with a story by Jane Schulze on the front page below the fold and the splash on the front page of the Media section.

The story led page 3 in The Fin Review with Toni O’Loughlan writing,
“Mr Newman’s resignation intensifies federal government pressure on the
ABC and a push by its board to abolish the position of staff-elected
director, which had long been a source of irrational to ABC management.

O’Loughlan said, “one board member, who did not want to be named,
said they were ‘pleased’ the letter had been released and noted SBS did
not have a staff representative on its board”.

The Age, however, buried the story in brief on page 8 and the Herald Sun had a small story on page 11.

Meanwhile Ramona Koval has been keeping a low profile limiting her appearances to reading a prepared statement for PM last night and an appearance on Lateline
where she stood by her actions saying, “I’m an independent director of
the ABC and I shouldn’t have to ask another director to communicate to
the staff. After all, I’m elected by the staff. I need to communicate
with them”.

Shadow Communication Minister Lindsay Tanner made the predictable
comments last night on PM: “There clearly is a need for the board to
resolve the underlying issue here, but the most pressing thing it says
is that now there is a vacancy, we need to ensure that the Government
appoints somebody who is committed to the ABC and who has got
appropriate credentials.”

But who will the Government appoint – and when? Darryl Williams is
unhappy in the Communications portfolio. That’s one of the reasons he’s
going at the next election. The Government will be unhappy to have an
ABC Board vacancy to fill so close to a poll, and Williams must be
particularly unimpressed.

Independence and the ABC director

Meanwhile Crikey’s corporate governance expert, Don Boredwalk, examines
the difference between the ABC board and the boards of public
companies. And asks, if Maurice Newman has no problem with renegade
director Cathy Walter remaining on the board of the ASX with him, why
then has he quit the ABC over Koval?

Read Don’s full report here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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