The next managing director of the ABC will be paid over $1 million a year, well over the $800,000 or so the current MD Mark Scott commands.

ABC chairman James Spigelman approached the Remuneration Tribunal late last year arguing the salary for the role, which hasn’t changed since Scott was appointed in 2006, was below competitive market rates. Following an investigation by corporate remuneration experts who argued the role was underpaid by 30-40%, the tribunal met this week and gave the ABC board the sign-off to raise the salary for the position.

Setting the final salary is ultimately up to the ABC board, but it must be done within a band identified by the tribunal as appropriate. The tribunal gave the board a band between $900,000 and $1.4 million, and the ABC is likely to pick a wage towards the lower end of this band, or, just over $1 million a year. Scott is currently paid $823,613 a year, a salary that has declined more than 20% in real terms since his appointment in 2006.

Yesterday, The Australian Financial Review, followed by just about everyone else, reported that the board was strongly leaning towards putting Singapore Google exec Michelle Guthrie into the role. She would be the first female managing director of the ABC.

Guthrie has yet to be announced, but Crikey understands her appointment is all but assured baring any unforeseen circumstances.

A lawyer by training, Guthrie spent 13 years in various roles at News Corp. She’s worked at BSkyB, Foxtel and Star TV, before taking a role at private equity firm Providence Equity Partners from 2007 to 2010. Since January 2011 she’s been an executive at Google Singapore.

Many of the others on the ABC’s shortlist have relatively higher profiles in Australia, with (often critical) published views and opinions on the ABC. But Guthrie has not been published on the subject. Or, indeed, on much at all. Crikey was unable to find a single interview with her in the English print media in the past five years.

Given her background, she is likely to bring significant digital media expertise to the role. Her appointment would suggest the ABC board strongly backs the strategy pursued by Scott.

Unlike Scott, however, she does not appear to have significant editorial experience. Her time as a media executive was largely in legal and business development roles. The ABC managing director has a formal role as the organisation’s editor-in-chief — a role Scott was familiar with from his time at Fairfax. Scott is frequently called on to defend editorial decisions at Senate estimates hearings. He is also Australia’s most vocal and public media executive — his calendar is filled with speeches and public appearances during which he articulates the ABC’s editorial vision. While much of his tenure has been focused on remaking the ABC for the digital age with the help of the ABC board (which largely lacks direct editorial experience), he’s also set its editorial direction and been the key respondent to criticisms of it. Will Guthrie be as high-profile and vocal a managing director on such things? On early indications, it looks unlikely.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey