The historian of the ABC, Professor Ken
Inglis, has proclaimed that the appointment of Keith Windschuttle to the Board is
“the most provocative ever made”. In an interesting article in Online Opinion, Inglis says the appointment amounts to an invitation to the rest of the Board
to consider taking advertising. Inglis writes:

Last year (Windschuttle) said in a lecture
that the ABC should be commercialised in order to break its Marxist culture…Recent
appointments may well have yielded a majority on the board favourable to that.
From the beginning of 2007 the board will have a new Chairman…What if the
new Chairman (to be chosen by the end of the year) were to ask the Government
on behalf of the board to clear the way for advertising by amending the Act? So
long as no Coalition Senator defected, that could be done as briskly as the
abolition of the staff-elected directorship. The new managing director would
then be managing an organisation rather different from the one that has been
nurturing our culture for the past 74 years.

Both in this article and in his recently published book, Whose ABC? The Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Inglis takes pains to correct recent
mistakes by sources as various as the Herald Sun, Robert Manne and Richard
Walsh on the method by which the managing director of the ABC is
appointed. He points to the importance
of the fact that the managing director is appointed not by the government of
the day, but by the board. He states
that contrary to popular belief, there is little or no evidence that the
disastrous Jonathan Shier was appointed because of political interference.

On the other hand his book quotes John Howard as admitting that the
appointment of Michael Kroger to the board was intentionally political. Inglis also rebuts Gerard Henderson’s
claim that the only important decision the board makes is the appointment of
the managing director:

Over the years, documents and
reminiscences reveal a continuous negotiation, usually but not always amicable,
between board and management over where the border is to be drawn between the
territories for which each is responsible.

He gives a lot of examples of when this negotiation mattered, for better and
worse. He makes it clear that the board does matter.

Inglis’s important book was completed before the appointment of Windschuttle
to the ABC board. In my review published
in The Age a couple of weeks ago I speculated about what Inglis would make of this latest
example of stacking. Now we know.

“The most provocative appointment
ever made.” As Inglis’s history of the
ABC reveals, that’s quite a statement.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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