Misha Ketchell writes:

Mark Scott’s appointment as the new managing director of the ABC
has attracted two lines of criticism. The first is that he’s risen
“without a trace” because former Fairfax CEO Fred
Hilmer was a family friend. The second is
that he’s a Liberal Party fellow traveller who will pursue the culture
wars at the ABC on the Government’s behalf.

Claims
he’s Liberal party stooge whose role at the ABC will be to do
John Howard’s bidding rest heavily on a brief period working for the
Greiner Liberal Government and his role in the surprise decision by The Age in 2004 to editorialise in favour of the return of the Howard Government.

Fairfax insiders were up in arms over the decision, which was made
during an editorial conference attended by Scott who was then
editor-in-chief of Metropolitan newspapers. Not only was his presence
at the conference unusual,
according to some Age insiders, the paper’s subsequent support for the Coalition was a significant break
with the logic that led the paper to oppose the Coalition in previous
elections.

But according to Fairfax sources, attempts to finger Scott for the change
of policy are not borne out by what happened at the meeting. Insiders say that prior to
lunch there was an
inconclusive discussion about who to back in the election.
During the lunch break Scott and Age editor Michael Gawenda went off together. After lunch Gawenda told staff the paper would
support the coalition.

Chief leader writer, John Watson, who was present at
the meeting, wrote this account for Crikey: “There was an extensive
discussion, but no decision was made at
the meeting. It is true I voiced concern about editorial consistency,
but the meeting certainly did not take a decision to call for a change
of government. What it did agree on was to reject fence-sitting because
there were big differences between the parties, a real choice, and
opting out of a decision was an unsatisfactory response. When the
meeting broke up, the editor had not announced what he described as a
very difficult decision on endorsement.”

Former Age
editor Michael Gawenda has also reacted indignantly to any suggestion
the editorial direction of the paper was set by anyone other than him.

It’s impossible to know what took place after the meeting, so Scott’s influence
can’t be ruled out entirely. But if he did plump for the coalition he
did a pretty good job of covering his tracks – a skill that might come
in handy if he’s going to try his hand at influence peddling at the ABC.