Last Friday we published a roundtable on leadership at the ABC. Does it matter that Michelle Guthrie isn’t a journalist? Is it actually a good thing? Former Four Corners executive producer Jonathan Holmes adds his thoughts and offers a correction below:


On leadership at the ABC

Jonathan Holmes writes: For the record, I should correct a minor error in my erstwhile colleague Quentin Dempster’s contribution to your media roundtable. In the 1980s, he wrote, the full ABC board, then chaired by Dame Leonie Kramer, signed off on the Four Corners’ report which led to the Wran Royal Commission. No, it didn’t. 

‘The Big League’ was a politically explosive story, which could also have cost the ABC a fortune if it lost a defamation action. It was referred up by me (I was the executive producer of Four Corners at the time) to my boss, the head of current affairs; from him (most unusually) it was referred all the way up to the then-acting General Manager, Keith Jennings (who had no journalistic background). His decision to refer it, prior to publication, to the ABC Commission (what is now called the Board) is, to my knowledge unique.

The chair of the Commission, Dame Leonie Kramer, convened a committee of the three Sydney-based Commissioners — herself, Laurie Short of the Ironworkers Federation, and Ken Tribe, a lawyer and arts administrator, to view the program and decide.  

Short (an ALP stalwart) wanted transmission postponed. Kramer (a conservative Fraser appointee) thought that, since the advice of a senior QC was that it was legally defensible, it should air. Tribe cast his vote for transmission, and the program went to air the following night. The rest of the Commission weren’t involved.

Interested readers can find the details here — together with my reasons for believing, not just that the ABC’s MD does not need to be a journalist, but that he or she should not carry the title ‘editor-in-chief’, and should not expect to be consulted about any editorial decision prior to publication.  

Peter Shulz writes: Thanks for this thought-provoking range of erudite opinions, which gave my tired old brain a good workout. And how thoughtful of you to give me a chance to relax with some outrageous satire at the end. And good old Gerard can always deliver it with such a straight face. It was satire, wasn’t it?

Robert Smith writes: Usually when you have a satirical article you label it “as told to”. You overlooked that in this case. All those solemn and sensible comments to set up the punch line from “Gerard Henderson”.


On the beauracrats who knew of live export brutality

Mary writes: Thanks again Bernard and Crikey for letting us know how awful and callous these bureaucrats and their political masters and mistresses really are. Given how this government treats human beings, nothing surprising in their attitude to other animals.

Desmond Graham writes: Why not publish a list of bureaucrats who did not know — there are lists of lawyers, doctors, directors etc who have been cautioned , flagellated etc all on the websites of the “disciplinary bodies”. Why not have a list of public servants who have screwed up on the department websites? Or better still have a public interest group publish a list of public servants that have been mentioned as having no knowledge of any of the obvious screw-ups.

Charmaine Tunn writes: The government is simply waiting out the outrage so that it can continue as before. The reluctance to euthanise is probably related to the requirement for reporting deaths over the percentage with exporters leaving the animals suffering in the hope they’ll recover. Thanks again to Bernard Keane.


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