The ABC’s Director of News, John Cameron, announced his resignation from the post today after five years in the job. The word is that he was not pushed, and has left at a time of his own choosing with the regard of Managing Director Mark Scott and the rest of the management team intact.

Cameron is not a man who inspires passions. He has few enemies, and few close friends in the organisation. ABC insiders today described his tenure as a time of “solid, not visionary” leadership.

For many of his reporters, their main knowledge of the man was from his regular memos on points of grammar and style. “He would have been a great down table sub,” said one

“He was a safe pair of hands,” said another.

Some would say too safe. ABC insiders are asking whether Scott will take the opportunity to give the division a shake-up, reviewing whether iconic programs like the 7.30 Report have become too formulaic and staid.

Scott has said Cameron’s position will be advertised soon. Names being mentioned as likely replacements include the present Head of National Programming, Alan Sunderland. Formerly of SBS, Sunderland is seen as an ambitious but skilled operator. The other likely replacement is the well-liked head of Network and State Coverage, Craig McMurtrie. Either Sunderland or McMurtrie would be “steady as she goes” appointments, insiders say, with McMurtrie being the popular choice.

Another potential “left field” appointment would be Bruce Dover, presently Chief Executive of Australia Network. Dover would be perceived as signalling a sharp change in style.

Cameron’s early days in the post as head of news were relatively stormy, marked by tensions and sometimes open disputes with the then head of television, Sandra Levy, but since Levy’s departure it has been steady as she goes.

Cameron has pushed ahead with the ABC imperative of trying to do more with less, developing the 24 hour newsroom, online news, the ABC Breakfast Program on ABC 2 and more recently overseeing the automation of news studios — which has not been a smooth process, as documented on Media Watch.

Cameron’s critics believe he has failed to advocate sufficiently for his Department with Scott. “He seems to have left the impression that we can keep on doing more with less,” said one, pointing to overseas correspondents who are increasingly expected to be available around the clock, filing for multiple platforms, delivering, according to some, quantity ahead of quality.

Another criticism is that he focussed on news, and particularly television news, while leaving current affairs to “benign neglect”.

Yet, the critics say, most of the news stories the ABC has broken in recent years have come from current affairs programs and local radio rather than from the newsrooms.

Others point out that it is a measure of how far things have moved for the ABC in the last five years that Cameron’s departure is likely to be non-controversial, rather than a reason for a fresh round of the cultural wars that used to circulate around ABC news and current affairs.

Cameron worked in newspapers and commercial radio for 12 years before joining the ABC in 1984. From 1984 to 1992, he worked as a reporter and producer for a range of ABC news and current affairs programs on both radio and television. He was a correspondent and then Bureau Chief in Washington from 1989 to 1991, the Head of ABC News and Current Affairs in Queensland from 1993 to 1998, and News and Current Affairs Head in Victoria from 1998 to 2000.

Cameron replaced Max Uechtritz in the post as head of news in May 2004.

The reasons for his departure are apparently a mixture of burn-out and personal matters. Announcing Cameron’s departure, Mark Scott said in a memo to staff: “My powers of persuasion failed in convincing him of another course of action. After nearly a decade at the top of his profession — and 25 years at the ABC, the promise of more New Zealand fishing trips, fewer late night and pre-dawn phone calls, and no management meetings, finally held too much sway.”

Cameron’s colleagues say that in recent months it was clear that the wearing process of dealing with ABC bureaucracy was beginning to get to him.

Scott’s and Cameron’s memos to staff can be read in full on my blog.

Cameron has signalled that he may return to another role within the ABC after taking his long service leave.

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW