It may seem a small matter given everything else that is going on in Canberra, but yesterday was the closing date for nominations for vacancies on the ABC and SBS boards. The selection process will now begin.

This will be the second set of appointments made under the new arm’s length appointment process, in which an independent panel conducts the search and serves up a shortlist of names to minister Stephen Conroy.

But although the process is independent, the parameters are within the influence of the incumbents. I understand that ABC chairman Maurice Newman has made it clear he wants a financial whizz to fill the vacancy created by departure of cultural warrior Janet Albrechtsen.

Now at first sight, this seems a strange thing. The board does not lack financial expertise in the broad sense. Newman himself is a former chair of the Australian Stock Exchange, and the board also includes lawyer and banker Steven Skala (although he departs next year) and Adelaide hotelier Peter Hurley.

Yet I am told that the search is on for someone who can go through the national broadcaster’s accounts line by line, and ask searching questions of management.

Why? Is there a problem? Apparently not. The view is that an organisation spending so much public money has to be schmicker than schmick when it comes to making sure all the dollars and cents are accounted for. On the other hand, some might think this is a job for senior management, rather than the board.

In any case, at least two applicants I know of have been discouraged from applying because they have been told only financial whizzes are wanted.

Meanwhile I am told that Conroy would like to see an appointee who is not from Sydney or Melbourne.

As  for the SBS board, Joseph Skrzynski was recently announced as the next chair. He will replace Carla Zampatti from December 17. He and Elleni Bereded-Samuel were appointed to the board in March 2009, so it might be thought that they represents current thinking on where SBS should be going and what it should be doing.

So far, though, Skrzynski has declined requests for interviews so it is hard to know what his vision might be.

The notable lack on the SBS board is technological and new media nous. This appointment might well be seen as an opportunity to redress that.

And  current SBS board member and industry veteran Gerald Stone tells me he has recommended they look for someone under the age of 30 to give a different perspective.

All that means that new media innovator Bronwen Clune,  known to be applying for both positions, might be in the running for SBS, if not for the ABC. She’s not under 30, but she’s young. Doubtless, though, there are many other applicants.

In the meantime, the second public broadcaster seems to have somewhat dropped off the political radar. Perhaps, if and when he breaks his silence, Skrzynski will change that.

Declaration: Clune is on the board of the Foundation for Public Interest Journalism, of which I am the chair.

Peter Fray

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