The ABC this morning confirmed that Michelle Guthrie will replace current managing director Mark Scott after a month-long handover in May 2016.
The media executive, who has most recently been working for Google in Singapore, will be paid $900,000 a year, the ABC announced, which is at the bottom of the $900,000 to $1.4 million band identified as suitable for the role by the Remuneration Tribunal, which approved a pay rise for the ABC managing director last week.
Guthrie rose to prominence while working for News Corp. A lawyer by training, she’s worked for BSkyB, Foxtel and subscription television company Star, where she became CEO in 2003, replacing James Murdoch. Crikey has previously pointed out her links with the Murdochs continued past this period. When she was head of private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, she was linked, along with Lachlan Murdoch, to a buyout bid of James Packer’s listed Consolidated Media Holdings. News Corp is the ABC’s largest competitor for audience in 24-hour news and digital news, and is a frequent critic of the ABC.
Guthrie gave her first interview since her appointment to the ABC’s News 24 this morning. She wasn’t asked and didn’t speak directly about her time at News Corp, but she did address questions about a partial commercialisation of the ABC, which we and others have speculated could be on the cards given her commercial experience.
Asked about ABC websites carrying online advertising, something sure to infuriate the ABC’s competitors, Guthrie said it was too early to make pronouncements. “[But] my sense is … it is important on an overall basis, in budget-constrained times, to look at all options around monetisation.”
She pointed out that some international ABC services like Australia Plus did carry advertising.
Before he was made ABC managing director, Mark Scott had been a journalist and editor-in-chief at Fairfax. Guthrie does not have this direct editorial experience, though the ABC’s statement this morning did try to play up what content experience she does have, stating:
“Ms Guthrie has played a key role in the development of broadcasting channels and content strategies across a range of platforms, including STAR’s 24-hour news channel in India with its complex stakeholder base and huge audience.”
Then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull recommended last year that the ABC split off the managing director and editor-in-chief roles, something that could become necessary if the managing director does not have direct content experience.
Asked about the possibility of such a split on News 24, Guthrie said “nothing is changing from Mark [Scott] to me in terms of that ultimate responsibility for editorial, but I know discussions are going on at a board level in terms of how best we support that on an ongoing basis”. Digital publishing, she added, increased the editorial requirements of the role.
When questioned about her own experience with the ABC, Guthrie cited enjoying PlaySchool and The New Inventors. “It was part of the fabric of my growing up,” she said. “And it’s very important for me for it to be in the fabric of my daughters’ lives, and my daughters’ daughters’ lives. It’s an incredible institution. We need to protect its enduring legacy, but also to meet the changing demands of the audience.” She declined to comment on criticism carried in The Australian from Senator Sam Dastyari, who argued giving her the gig was rewarding someone for tax evasion (given Google Australia is known for moving profits to Singapore), saying she didn’t have responsibility for finance at Google and wasn’t authorised to speak on the issue.
ABC chairman James Spigelman described Guthrie as an “exceptional media professional with strong content, operational and board experience within internationally respected media companies”.
“She brings to the ABC her business acumen, record in content-making across an array of platforms, a deep understanding of audience needs and corporate responsibility for promoting issues like diversity.
“We have no doubt she is the right person to succeed Mark Scott next year and to lead the Corporation in its broadcasting and digital work as both are defined by the ABC Charter.”