An interesting perspective on the appointment of Janet Albrechtsen can be found in the current issue of The Reader in the form of an interview with Di Gribble, one of the co-proprietors of The Reader, who was an ABC director and deputy chair from 1995 to 2000.

Some of it is unsurprising; for example, the way boards end up doing what the staff want:

Board members have a bit of a squabble amongst themselves about who listens to Radio National and who doesn’t, who likes Kerry O¹Brien and who doesn’t, who wants more cricket on the airwaves and whose friend¹s idea for a mini-series has been knocked off by ABC TV. Then directors sign off on the staff proposals.

And on ABC bias:

The issue of bias also gets a good airing, as is only proper. But board members divide along factional lines, therefore avoiding a proper discussion. The factions are not left/right but a much more complex set of allegiances, sometimes to ministers who might be vying for the spotlight.

Gribble speaks highly of ABC Chairman Donald McDonald, who has evidently disappointed the government by his failure to act the part of right-wing warrior; she says that he “a very subtle mind and an intention … to preside over a broadcaster of international excellence.” But the government sometimes can’t resist trying to light a fire under him:

During his terms it has not been unknown for the odd, how shall I say it, not very sophisticated director to be appointed as a burr under his saddle. I don¹t know Janet Albrechtsen, or whether she has been appointed to be a burr. But intelligent people are very surprising and can’t always be counted on to be the obedient servants their masters had hoped for.

It’s not clear whether Gribble has McDonald or Albrechtsen (or even herself) in mind by the reference to “intelligent people”. But she has no illusions about what governments are after with their board appointments:

An “outsider” is more likely to be appointed to give the government of the day the numbers for bringing the ABC to its particular heel. Just any outsider is likely to be a waste of space, but … an outsider with not just a fresh but a global view of the future of broadcasting would be a valuable addition.

Only time will tell whether Albrechtsen ends up as burr, valuable addition or waste of space.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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