Publishing and media doyenne Ita Buttrose has been confirmed as the new chair of the ABC.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced today that the government will recommend Buttrose’s appointment to the Governor-General.
Buttrose is the founder of Cleo magazine, and a former editor-in-chief of The Australian Women’s Weekly, The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and The Sun-Herald. Over her career, she has worked for all of the commercial broadcasters, and also served on the board of a variety of organisations, including News Ltd.
The former Australian of the Year will be the second woman to hold the role of ABC chair in the broadcaster’s 87 year history – the other being Leonie Kramer in the early 1980s.
Morrison said Buttrose was an “outstanding candidate”. “Ita is an extraordinary Australian who will bring decades of media and management experience to the ABC. I can think of no-one better to lead the national broadcaster.”
Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said: “After a difficult period for the ABC, Ita Buttrose is someone Australians know and can trust to chair the national broadcaster.”
Buttrose said: “The ABC is one of the most important cultural and information organisations in Australia and I am honoured to be given the opportunity to lead it.”
Acting ABC managing director David Anderson said Buttrose would provide valuable strategic leadership at an important time for the national public broadcaster.
“I join with all ABC employees in welcoming Ita Buttrose to this important role,”Anderson said.
“Ms Buttrose is an eminent Australian with vast experience as an editor and media executive. Her leadership of the ABC, a highly valued and trusted cultural institution, is welcomed.
“In an era of globalised commercial media, a strong independent ABC is vital. We remain committed to outstanding news and current affairs, hosting conversations that inform the public, and delivering compelling content that is distinctive, high-quality and Australian.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Kirstin Ferguson for her strong commitment to an independent ABC and the ongoing leadership and governance she has provided during her tenure as Acting Chair.”
“I am honoured to work with her in my capacity as deputy chair and I know the entire board looks forward to working with Ms Buttrose on critical issues facing the ABC.”
Kirstin Ferguson had been acting in the role of ABC chair for five months after the departure of Justin Milne last September. Milne resigned following the sacking of former managing director Michelle Guthrie, with media reports subsequently suggesting he had pressured her to “get rid of” ABC senior journalist Emma Alberci because she was disliked by the Federal Government, and to “shoot” ABC political editor Andrew Probyn because former PM Malcolm Turnbull hated him.
Media reports emerged earlier this month that Buttrose was being considered for the position of chair and then later, that she was government’s pick for the job, despite not being shortlisted by an independent nomination panel.
The government said it has followed the legislated process for making Buttrose’s appointment, including considering the report of the independent nomination panel and consulting with the Leader of the Opposition. Buttrose’s term is part-time for five years.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has already called on Buttrose and the yet-to-be-appointed new managing director to hold comprehensive meetings with staff as an initial step to come to grips with the broadcaster’s challenges, and to seek advice from industry experts.
MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “The new chair and managing director must be prepared to fight for better funding and independence of the ABC, and to champion public broadcasting in a hostile political environment.
“The past three years at the ABC will be remembered for historically low levels of funding culminating in losing $350 million in funding under the current Government, hundreds of redundancies, unprecedented political attacks on the ABC’s independence and low staff morale.”
The union also welcomed Buttrose to the role, noting her decades of media experience. However, it expressed misgivings about the government hand-picking appointments rather following the independent selection process.
“Repeated government interference in appointments to the ABC makes a mockery of an independent process aimed at finding the best person for the job,.”