The dramatic fallout from Michelle Guthrie’s sacking has put the ABC’s board under the microscope. A quick glance at the CVs of the ABC’s board of directors indicates that they are drawn overwhelmingly from the highest echelons of corporate Australia. Conversely, the board collectively has almost no journalistic experience.
The ABC Act does not specify a preference for directors with business experience. According to the act, the board’s duties include ensuring the functions of the ABC are performed efficiently, maintaining the integrity of the organisation, and ensuring news reporting is accurate and impartial. The act requires directors have experience in broadcasting, communication, management, financial or technical matters, or have cultural or other interests relevant to the management of the board.
But white-collar experience is not necessarily a prerequisite for the effective management of a public broadcaster. The most obvious analogue to the ABC is the BBC, which seems to draw from a more diverse pool of directors, including journalists, academics and a former Paralympian, alongside the familiar corporate types.
The case of the BBC highlights the overwhelming narrowness of the ABC’s board. Why does the ABC’s board look like this? The functions of a public broadcaster are, after all, fundamentally different from those of a listed company.
Here’s a brief overview of where the ABC’s directors come from.
Justin Milne (outgoing chairman)
The embattled Milne cut his teeth during Australia’s dotcom boom around the turn of the millennium. He has held leadership positions at Telstra and Microsoft, and currently sits on the board of MYOB, NBN Co and TABCORP.
Lewis is chairman of real estate company McGrath Ltd. He previously worked in management positions at media companies, including as CFO of Seven Network.
Walford serves on a number of corporate boards, including KeyInvest Ltd, the South Australian Venture Capital Fund. She is a fellow at the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Gersh is the founder and executive chairman of a real estate investment bank. Previously, he spent 20 years as a senior partner at commercial law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, which has strong political connections.
Dr Vanessa Guthrie
Guthrie spent several decades as an executive in the mining and resources sectors. She is currently chair of the Minerals Council of Australia.
Dr Kirstin Ferguson
Ferguson is also a director on several corporate boards across the private, government and not-for-profit sector. She is also, according to her website, a highly sought-after MC and keynote speaker.
Somerset has a background in the agricultural sector, including running her family cattle business. She is currently president-elect of AgForce, the peak body representing Queensland farmers.
Connors is the staff-elected director, and the only board member without a corporate background. She has 25 years experience at the ABC, and has held management roles at ABC Radio.