ABC chair designate Ita Buttrose shakes hands with Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

It’s hard to imagine Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be anything but delighted with the coverage this week of his announcement that media icon Ita Buttrose would be the new ABC chair.

The story, leaked earlier this week and officially announced yesterday, has played out with almost universal positively, likely the aim of bypassing the selection process to appoint someone who didn’t even apply for the job.

The Australian’s number one ABC critic Chris Kenny authored one of six pieces published in his paper today, including the editorial and front-page splash. He praised Buttrose as a “born leader, powerful advocate and an experience media practitioner who will not be intimidated by political power or internal insurrection”.

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His colleague Caroline Overington was also singing Buttrose’s praises, in particular her experience in journalism, “which is more than can be said for most of the people who have run the ABC”. The paper’s editorial wrote that her high profile meant she wouldn’t be “insecure and search for the love of the ABC staff collective”.

Across the media, prominent commentators and players have praised the move. Over at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, ABC presenters Emma Alberici and Barrie Cassidy said they were pleased with the pick.

Over the past week, media executives have praised the appointment, including former chair David Hill, Nine’s Helen McCabe, former Private Media CEO Marina Go, and TV executive David Leckie.

ABC broadcaster Patricia Karvelas used her airtime on the ABC News channel yesterday to praise the appointment, saying: “She’s so obviously qualified … look at her history. She understands the media probably better than anyone in this country.”

Karvelas’ guest was Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who repeated her party’s line that while Buttrose is distinguished and well-qualified, the government should have gone through the proper process and also consulted the opposition.

Even those criticising the government’s captain’s call in choosing Ita have praised the woman herself. Former ABC staff-elected director Matt Peacock wrote an op-ed again in SMH and The Age focussed on the government’s process and advice for the incoming chair. Statements from the journalists’ union, the MEAA, and the ABC Alumni group have taken a similar tack in praising Buttrose but criticising the process of her appointment. Another former ABC chair Maurice Newman said the appointment was not a good look, lacking transparency.

While staff were for the most part happy with Buttrose’s commitment to the ABC’s independence and important role in Australian culture yesterday, her aim to get the “ABC functioning again” raised some eyebrows. What else had it been doing for the past six months?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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