It comes as no surprise when you discover that ‘Friends of the ABC’ is not, like, say, the CWA or Mate for Mates, a support group in the sense we generally know it to be.
Rather ABC ‘Friends’ is like Get Up, fiercely political, acidly vengeful, in the main, a Labor front, rather than of music and current-affairs fans supporting the national broadcaster.
This is evident in the most recent edition of ‘Update’ the Friends ‘Thrice Yearly Newsletter’ (there’s something parochial about that ‘thrice’ – the Friends are a middle-class crowd, Labor-voting retirees who view bowls as beneath them and the University of the Third Age as too intellectually demanding.)
Associate Professor Richard Gates, ex-president of the Northern Rivers branch of Friends, excoriates newish Managing Director Michelle Guthrie: “She did not go to bat for more funding from her political masters at Senate Estimates… In the absence of the MD’s contract it’s not possible to know what she has been asked to do. No doubt the Minister or the new Chairman… are not about to insist that her contract be made public although for the life of me, I cannot see why it shouldn’t be public, after all, she’s on the public purse.”
He continues, even techier: “By the way, the Nomination Panel [for appointees to the BC Board] is appointed by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet… and initiated to action by the Minister for Propaganda, sorry, Communication.” And repeats, because he obviously thinks it funny, “The Minister for 1984, err… Communications, admitted at Senate Estimates… ” etc.
Richard Ackland, who writes for The Guardian Australia is equally acerbic. He wrote “[The ABC] is going through one of its periodic meltdowns, brought about because a new managing director has come down from the moon and set about doing things her way. [Guthrie] arrived… via Google and the House of Murdoch, with a mission to trim the budget and keep pace with technology and its impact on viewing patterns.”
President ABC Friends National Inc. Margaret Reynolds (this would be former Labor Senator Margaret Reynolds, yes ?) wrote a stern ‘Open Letter’ to ABC MD Guthrie, “We also expect that in your role as Managing Director you will match our advocacy and not be constrained by government priorities.”
OK, so Reynolds proposes Guthrie defy the Minister and fight to increase funding for the ABC which suffered little in the last Budget. A photograph of Reynolds shows her beside ABC broadcaster Quentin Dempster, in an address to “Parliamentary Friends” which included Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Tasmanian Andrew Wilkie and Liberal Craig Laundy. In an earlier life, Dempster was the Australian Journalists Association (now the Media Alliance) union rep in Brisbane.
Radio National alone operates on an annual budget of some 23 million and the entire ABC budget is more than the revenue of several small countries.
Against all the brickbats flung at her by the Friends, Michelle Guthrie has shown remarkable resilience. She told RN’s Patricia Karvelas: “I left News Corp in 2007, so if I was a Murdoch stooge I’m far removed from that… The important thing in terms of my role at the ABC is to really try to take all of my experience from the past, whether it’s from Google or my TV and pay TV experience…. and figure out ways in which we can be more adaptable and deliver for audiences as their behaviour changes very substantially.”
Guthrie defended the ABC against an insensitive on-line editorial last week with class and dignity, proving she’s no pushover but she’ll need to hold her nerve.
State and Regional branches of the ‘Friends’ abound; including in Armidale, Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Cowper, Eastern Suburbs, Great Lakes, Hunter, Mid-North Coast, Shoalhaven, Northern Rivers, Illawarra and the Riverina.
Sadly, what all these earnest, well-meaning Friends seem not to realise – or indeed, want to realise, is, if the money’s not there, it’s not there. Michelle Guthrie, tough, pragmatic, (where are the feminists, here’s an Asian-background woman holding a top flight corporate role) will have her hands full controlling the bloated ABC – and she may lose a few Friends doing it.
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