ABC managing director Russell
Balding has quit the national broadcaster, jumping today to become CEO
of the Sydney Airport Corporation.

The ABC’s chairman Donald McDonald announced in a statement
that Balding, who has been with ABC for ten years, would terminate his
five-year contract a year early to take up the SAC position.

Balding,
who came to the top job after being finance director, was a bland
manager who make a meek impression on the ABC – which is what the
organisation needed after the torrid Jonathan Shier period.

“The ABC is not what it was, it’s just taken too many hits for ten
years, (with) successive funding cuts,” former ABC managing director
David Hill told Crikey today. “The ABC is no longer as diverse, it’s no
longer as strong, it’s no longer as creative as it was.”

“Donald
McDonald is effectively a full time chairman,” Hill said, adding that
this had seriously encroached on the managing director’s turf when it
came to day to day decision-making.

Hill says the ABC’s level
of cutting edge Australian television drama, once a defining
characteristric of the public broadcaster, was now “virtually zero.”
But the void will be filled, Hill said, with “re-runs and quality
British programs.”

Former head of the PM’s department Max
Moore-Wilton has taken an executive director’s position with Macquarie
Bank to make way for Balding.

This is the email sent out to ABC staff this morning:

—–Original Message—–
From: Russell Balding
Sent: Friday, 20 January 2006 10:07 AM
To: Russell Balding
Subject: Personal message to all ABC staff from the Managing Director

Dear Colleagues

Firstly,
apologies for the delay in receiving this email which was due to be
sent at 9.35am this morning but not able to be sent until now due to
technical problems.

I am writing to let you know that I will be
leaving the ABC towards the end of March 2006, to take up the position
of Chief Executive Officer of Sydney Airport Corporation Limited. The
formal announcement of this appointment has just been made by the
Sydney Airport Corporation this morning.

This has been a
difficult decision for me as I have found my time with the ABC to be
without doubt the most challenging, but most rewarding, of my
professional life. When I first joined the Corporation as the Chief
Financial Officer some ten years ago, I quickly realised that working
in Australia’s most significant cultural institution involved a much
broader range of responsibilities and commitments and also that you
were a quite unique and valuable group of people. It has therefore been
a privilege for me to have worked with you and specifically for the
last four and a bit years to have led the organisation.

I take
immense pride in our many achievements together, particularly over
these recent years. I believe the ABC I am leaving is in good shape, is
in good spirits, and is well positioned for continuing success. In the
face of strong competition for the attention of Australians the ABC
remains a highly relevant part of our national infrastructure, and a
critical player in Australia’s media and cultural sector.

On all
our platforms our audiences both domestically and internationally – as
always a most significant measure of continuing relevance – remain at
all time high levels, and the strong connection our audiences feel with
the ABC continues to be demonstrated clearly throughout our entire
range of services. That is a great achievement in the current rapidly
changing media environment and a cause for confidence about the ABC’s
future.

Likewise, as we begin the new year I am confident that
the programming strategies we have put in place across all platforms
will see the Corporation continue to perform strongly.

In my
remaining time with the Corporation I will be applying myself to
ensuring in particular that our contribution to the Funding Adequacy
and Efficiency Review remains focussed on ensuring the best outcomes
for the ABC, and that the related matter of our Triennial Funding
Submission to Government for the new triennium commencing 1 July 2006
is well positioned and strongly advocated to deliver a good result for
the ABC in the 2006 Federal Budget. In line with my initial view, I
remain confident of a successful outcome in respect of both matters.

I
anticipate that an announcement will be made shortly about management
arrangements post my departure. In the meantime myself and the
Executive are continuing to attend to business as usual.

It
remains for me to thank you all for your contribution to the work of
this great organisation and your support to me as Managing Director and
to wish you all, and the ABC, every success for the future.

With all personal best wishes.

Russell Balding
Managing Director
20 January 2006