As news breaks of the sacking of ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie, ABC employees have told Crikey they were aware drama was “brewing” as early as Friday.
Senior staff were said to have been made aware of movements at the highest levels days before the board made a statement on Monday morning, and even before Communications Minister Mitch Fifield informed the Prime Minister on Sunday evening.
A source in the TV division said “morale has been shocking” and that few would be “mourning” Guthrie’s demise.
While senior staff had an inkling earlier, the announcement on Monday took many by surprise. One source said that employees read about the board’s decision in The Australian before the staff email was sent around.
“Certainly what I’ve been told is that the morale has been rock bottom all the way through Guthrie’s tenure on the TV production side. The ‘Larry thank you cards’ were possibly the final straw,” the source said. Another said staff were feeling “pretty cheerful” on Monday morning after the news broke.
In September, Guthrie told staff to try and boost morale by handing out thank you cards with images of a corny character named Larry.
“Blunders like ABC Larry were harmless but reinforced the perception of someone who didn’t understand how the place works,” said one employee.
Executive producer of Four Corners Sally Neighbour added a twist to events, tweeting on Monday morning that the sacking was an “excellent decision“.
This was compounded by Melbourne ABC broadcaster Jon Faine who said Guthrie’s behaviour was an “astonishing fail” in an on-air spray on Monday. He added she was given the benefit of the doubt, in part, due to her gender.
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Guthrie came under intense scrutiny during her time as managing director for not defending the ABC against attacks from the Coalition government and from the News Corp papers. A source in the radio division said staff were disappointed in Guthrie’s lack of appearance at Senate estimates.
“She wasn’t turning up to Senate estimates and though we had really capable and experienced staff at Senate estimates, people felt she could have been a stronger public advocate. She did however spearhead the Your ABC campaign which is doing that loudly and publicly.”
Another source suggested the Google-centric approach of Guthrie, who was previously an executive in the technology company, did not translate well to a public broadcaster.
“For example, with hot-desking, it meant the only content maker in Melbourne who had their own desk was Shaun Micallef. There was nowhere to go and make phone calls with any degree of discretion.”
Despite an apparent sense of relief from a majority of staff at Guthrie’s removal, several sources suggested gender could, regrettably, have been a factor in the sacking: “It’s a shame that our first female managing director wasn’t given the chance to see through her term.”
“Ultimately people won’t be too distressed about the change, there might be some concern about the government cutting the budget again. I don’t think anyone will be too heartbroken, but it depends what happens next,” said one employee.
“Guthrie was not the same kind of communicator and public advocate that her predecessor was. While the ABC has been used as a punching bag by the government, staff wanted someone who could stand up and defend our reputation as Australia’s most trusted media source.”
Guthrie released a statement on Monday stating she was “devastated” by the decision and “at no point have any issues been raised with me”.
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