Anita Jacoby and Lisa Chung were both overlooked for the ABC board (Images: AP, Australian Unity)

The Coalition government ignored an independent panel’s recommendations for two women to join the ABC’s board and instead selected a friend of Communications Minister Paul Fletcher with no media experience.

A document obtained by Crikey through freedom of information reveals the list of recommended candidates for the public broadcaster’s non-executive director vacancies.

The panel, comprising Dr Sally Pitkin, Helen Williams and Mark Kenny, selected Lisa Chung AM, Mario D’Orazio, Anita Jacoby AM and Peter Tonagh.

On May 17 Fletcher announced that D’Orazio, Tonagh and Fiona Balfour, a captain’s pick, had been appointed.

Balfour is a business executive who has worked in the aviation and IT sectors. She’s also known to be close to Fletcher. In 2017 he appointed her to the board of the Western Sydney Airport project. In 2013 she was one of four guests reported to have been invited by Fletcher to his budget-in-reply dinner in Parliament House.

It is at least the second time that Jacoby has been passed over for a public broadcaster board role. In 2020 Fletcher picked political ally Warren Mundine over Jacoby and three other candidates selected by an independent panel. Jacoby is a career broadcast executive and journalist who serves as a member of the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Chung is non-executive director on several corporate boards including insurance company Australian Voice and the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation’s board. Chung, a fourth-generation Chinese-Australian, would have been the only non-white member of the ABC board.

Neither Chung nor Jacoby could be reached for comment.

Non-executive directors must have experience in media, business, corporate governance or the arts. It is a five-year term and pays $56,380 a year.

Fletcher’s decision to choose an allied candidate over suggested qualified candidates is further evidence of the government’s willingness to shape the supposedly independent public broadcasters. Fletcher’s office did not respond to Crikey questions by deadline.

In addition to the selection of Mundine for the SBS, the decision to pick Ita Buttrose as the ABC’s chair in 2019 was also a captain’s pick. Buttrose was selected by the government over the three recommended candidates.

Buttrose has taken issue with the government’s total control over who is appointed to the ABC board.

“I don’t know chairs of other companies who have no input into the composition of their board,” she said just before the appointees were announced. “Although we are a Commonwealth entity, I do think the chair of all Commonwealth entities should have some input into who the directors are.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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