Public broadcasting and passion. The two go together, as evidenced by the response I have had to my piece on Wednesday making suggestions for who should fill the two positions on the ABC Board that fall vacant next year. I had more response to this story than to any other that I have written for Crikey, which just shows what Crikey readers are interested in, I guess.

Not all the passion is nice. A fair bit of the response was sniping at the people I suggested, with off the record anecdotes about their alleged shortcomings and personal failings. Not much of this is printable, but it could be summed up thus:

Julianne Schultz made unpopular decisions when she was an ABC executive during the Brian Johns era, and the publication she edits, Griffith Review has a relationship with the ABC, presenting her with a potential conflict. Peter Bartlett might not have the intestinal fortitude for the inevitable fights. Eric Beecher is either a cold fish, or a rabble rouser and trouble-maker, or both. As for the Wheelers, my statement that they understood new media was challenged. “They’re a print publishing house. End of story.”

The only two on my list who escaped negative remarks were Patrick Gallagher and John Clarke, the prospect of The Board mockumentary being widely supported as sufficient reason for Clarke’s appointment.

Asked if he would consider the post if offered, Gallagher responded: “for me to to rule myself out would instantly make me a candidate.” So seriously, was he interested? “Continuing the pollies’ line, not prepared to discuss hypotheticals.” Speaking like a board member already.

On the other hand, all the individuals I suggested also attracted praise. Former Labor appointed ABC Board member Janine Walker, pointed out that the new Government will almost certainly want to replace departing Queenslanders on the Board with others from the same state. Walker said she would plump for Schultz, who lives in Sydney but as editor of the Queensland based Griffith Review was “an ersatz sort of homey.” It should be pointed out that Walker’s own connection with Griffith University, home of the Review, might bias her.

Patrick Tatam said he backed Eric Beecher. “I still remember his Andrew Olle Lecture on where the media and the ABC were going, and the immediate fisticuffs which resulted between Eric and that philistine, Jonathan Shier!”

And of course, and most interestingly, there were lots of suggestions of other names.

Lawyer and human rights activist Julian Burnside was suggested by a couple of people. Others suggestions included former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, Senator Judith Troeth, writer and former Keating speechwriter Don Watson, Democrat Andrew Bartlett and author Richard Flanagan.

It seems to me that all these appointments could be seen – simplistically, certainly, but inevitably – as a mere continuation of the culture wars with the current victors taking the spoils. More to the point, only Watson and Flanagan could be said to have anything analogous to media experience, and neither is known for new-media nous.

One person off the radar of the culture wars and suggested by two readers was Tom Kennedy, Director of the Internet Industry Association, Chairman of Digital Content Action Agenda Experts Group, and a Commissioner of the Australian Film Commission. Kennedy also advised the previous Government on digital media, and is currently CEO of MediaZoo consultancy . Asked whether he would be interested, Kennedy said he would definitely consider the post if offered.

Another suggestion with some legs was Dr Jock Given, author of Turning off the Television: broadcasting’s uncertain future, who knows the whole box and dice on broadcasting’s past, present and future. Another possibility from academia was Liz Jacka, Professor of Communication Studies from University of Technology, Sydney.

Other names suggested by readers: Louise Adler, head of Melbourne University Publishing, bank executive Ann Sherry, journalist Ann Davies, Ann Summers, and Mark Carnegie.

There were more, but I am out of space, partly because the next paragraph has to be long:

Declaration: The author of this article published a book about compost with Patrick Gallagher’s Allen and Unwin in 2004. She contributes to Julianne Schultz’s Griffith Review. Eric Beecher is publisher and part owner of Crikey, to which she is a retained contributor. Mark Carnegie is a major shareholder with Beecher in Business Spectator. The author has interviewed Julian Burnside, Don Watson, Ann Summers and Richard Flanagan, and corresponded with Andrew Bartlett. She is presently collaborating with Malcolm Fraser on his memoirs. She is a visiting fellow at the Institute of Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, which is also where Dr Jock Given works. She will be attending a Christmas Party for the ISR later today, and Given will almost certainly be there. She has book contracts with Louise Adler’s Melbourne University Publishing. She is sure there are many possible candidates for the ABC Board with whom she has no connection, and of whom she is not aware, and she would be glad to hear of them.

More responses to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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