Almost five months since Justin Milne spectacularly resigned as ABC chair, his replacement is now just weeks away from being announced. Since he resigned, media commentators have been speculating on who Prime Minister Scott Morrison will appoint to clean up the mess left after Milne and former managing director Michelle Guthrie’s explosive fallout.
So who are the media tipping?
The former managing director of Fairfax (RIP) Greg Hywood is one of Media Watch‘s picks for the job, and has been widely tipped as the favourite since Milne’s resignation. Hywood has previously been one of the ABC’s loudest critics from the commercial media, arguing that its websites were putting unfair pressure on commercial news media (since debunked by a competitive neutrality inquiry into the ABC and SBS).
If Hywood is appointed to the role, the decision is likely to be met with widespread criticism. In a thinly veiled plea from the ABC Alumni organisation, former ABC staffers wrote in an open letter in January warning against a chair “who has displayed bias against the national broadcaster’s comprehensive role in Australian society”.
“Commercial media executives who lobbied to restrict the ABC’s online activities and confine it to areas regarded as uneconomic for commercial media should be disqualified from consideration,” they wrote.
Media Watch suggested Kim Williams would be too left-leaning for the Coalition to pick him as Milne’s replacement, but his extensive media experience means he has also been repeatedly tipped as a possible replacement. Williams has led News Corp Australia (which ended because he and Rupert Murdoch “had different views of the world”) and News Corp’s Foxtel, is currently chair of the Copyright Agency, and is a former professional clarinet player and composer.
Media lawyer Ian Robertson is the current president of Film Victoria, appointed after allegations of misspending and poor governance at the organisation were raised. He has previously held positions on the Australian Broadcasting Authority board, the Screen Australia board and AusFilm. He has also previously worked as in-house counsel for The Age. While Robertson was at the Australian Broadcasting Authority, he was on the three-person panel for the cash-for-comment inquiry, and was also involved in the auction of new commercial FM radio licences, the introduction of digital TV and radio and local news content quotas in regional Australia.
Back in November, The Australian Financial Review tipped Danny Gilbert as the favourite for the job, as it also did in 2017 before Milne’s appointment. He was reportedly recommended for the role, but that was overturned by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to appoint Milne. The Sydney lawyer and managing partner of firm Gilbert and Tobin is probably another one who’s “too left-leaning” for the Coalition according to Media Watch. Opposition spokesperson for communications Michelle Rowland worked at his firm for 10 years.