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ABC managing director David Anderson appears at a Senate estimates
ABC managing director David Anderson appears at a Senate estimates. (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

The ABC has confirmed its new managing director will be David Anderson, the safe, 30-year ABC veteran who’s been acting in the role since his predecessor Michelle Guthrie was spectacularly sacked last year.

Anderson was director of television and an executive at the public broadcaster under his former boss Mark Scott, and is said to be one of the former managing director’s proteges. His first order of business, though, will be to step out from Scott’s shadow and put forward a vision for the ABC, journalist and academic Margaret Simons told a Sydney Writers Festival audience on Saturday.

Speaking on a panel called “Whose ABC?”, Simons said it was a good appointment, but Anderson would now need to set himself apart from Scott. “He already has and will continue to settle the horses,” she said. “(But) I’m yet to hear David Anderson spell out an agenda and a vision for where the ABC is going that is different and moving on from Mark Scott’s vision and agenda … he needs to step out of Mark’s considerable shadow and define himself to staff and the ABC’s audiences and the Australian taxpayer.”

Scott, who was also on the panel, said it was an “outstanding appointment”, noting his long tenure at the public broadcaster. “I think David Anderson is the most qualified new managing director of the ABC in a generation, he knows the place backwards,” he said. “In turbulent times, he’s been the leader of the ABC … You have to be a managing director who the staff will want to follow.”

Former Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, who recently published a book in Melbourne University Press’s On series called On Aunty, agreed that Anderson would now need to communicate his plan for his tenure. “David so far has not shown that ability to go out there and sell himself and the ABC and his vision,” Holmes said. “Let’s hope that he finds it.”

Anderson’s ability to communicate with staff and to understand what was important to ABC staff and audiences set him apart from Guthrie, the panel agreed. “I’m sure he won’t repeat one of Michelle Guthrie’s mistakes which was the failure to communicate,” Simons said.

Anderson’s appointment was announced in a press release late Friday afternoon, reportedly the same day Anderson and the other final candidate for the role, ex-The Age editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge, faced lengthy final interviews with the board. Other shortlisted candidates were reportedly TV producer and former ITV Studios CEO Anita Jacoby and former Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir.

New chair Ita Buttrose said in the announcement that the board had unanimously decided to appoint Anderson to the role:

With almost 30 years of service, David’s knowledge of the ABC is unsurpassed. He has a deep understanding of audience needs and the board is confident he has the skills and ability to respond to the challenges of a changing media environment. We believe he is the right person to lead the corporation at this time. David already enjoys the trust and confidence of the ABC leadership team and staff and he is ideally placed to continue to provide strong leadership and direction.

Anderson’s appointment has been welcomed by staff. News director Gaven Morris tweeted “order restored” following the announcement, and recently-appointed editorial director Craig McMurtrie also congratulated his new boss on the micro-blogging site, saying, “From the mail room to the managing director’s office. Truly no one knows the ABC better.”

Peter Fray

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