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TV & Radio

Dec 21, 2015

Is Michelle Guthrie going to sell ads on your ABC?

Given her commercial experience, is Michelle Guthrie likely to partially commercialise the ABC? An interview this morning suggested she might be open to it.

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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.” 

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8 comments

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8 thoughts on “Is Michelle Guthrie going to sell ads on your ABC?

  1. Eric Vigo

    I love Australian politics:
    • those who dont like ads on the ABC are in Lib territory, or ex-ALP seats. It’s already been worked out that those in Wentworth will never vote for anyone not Lib; the Greens in Newtown have no power so they wont count.
    • those who dont care if the ABC have ads are in western Sydney, so this issue wont rate much.
    • those who rely on the ABC but may/may not care are in Nats territory, and they can never imagine voting for someone not Nationals.

    So there, all government policy eminates from here. If somehow an issue bucks this, then the Libs will back down. Otherwise, onwards with whatever they want.

    Will the ads on the ABC tip the Vaucluse Libs to chuck out Turnbull or Killara Libs to get rid of Bishop? No, well on with Murdoch/IPA instructions forthwith! (“I’m sorry Rupert, I haven’t abolished the ABC and overridden our legal structure to allow it!” “Fool! Do better or else you’ll get what the others get. Do not disappoint me!!!”)

    I HOPE I am wrong.

  2. zut alors

    Interesting – not to mention unnerving – that Guthrie didn’t immediately rule out the ABC being compromised by online commercials.

    My gut says she has the indelible taint of Murdoch but I will be delighted if proved wrong.

  3. paddy

    Well I guess we’ll just have to hope that Michelle Guthrie manages to surprise us all, and turns out more like Donald McDonald, than Jonathan Shier.
    But I have a sinking feeling that Aunty’s in for a hard time in the next 5 years.
    (Hope I’m wrong.)

  4. Dr_Bill

    Well, they buggered up SBS with commercials, let’s bash the ABC.

    So Michelle Guthrie , if you ARE persuaded to bugger up the ABC with commercials, try and restrict for in-between programs and on-line – iView for example, but NOT during programs.

  5. Eric Vigo

    Amazing to think that someone comes into a role such as the one she will get, deliberately looking to destroy it on behalf of someone else, and get paid.

    It leads me to thinking, but not that she is, that she exhibits traits of a mercenary (not saying she is, just, you know, the two seem similar)

  6. bushby jane

    This is under turnbull’s watch don’t forget.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    When, as you say, “ABC chairman James Spigelman described Guthrie as an “exceptional media professional with strong content, operational and board experience within internationally respected media companies”, it means she has one of the few serious high level intellects still connected with the A.B.C. backing her. It’s little wonder this has capitalist media entities such as Crikey a tad concerned, is it.

  8. AR

    The point has often been made that the commercial meeja as the group most threatened and opposed to ads on the ABC because of the drain on their already depleted coffers.
    The quality products for AB consumers will rush to the ABC, leaving them with Ktel, HarveyNorman & CrazyJoe ads for hoi polloi & lumpen.

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