Saturday, 10 June 2017

ABC's Guthrie not keen on the limelight

Writing as usual for The Guardian, Amanda Meade interprets in print an interview the ABC's managing director Michelle Guthrie did with Jane Hutcheon, who runs the broadcaster's One Plus One program.

As Meade notes it's the first time Guthrie has appeared in the media in such a candid fashion and many people will take an interest in it. Meade highlights the way Guthrie seeks to distance herself from her past, especially those troubling (for some) years with Sky TV, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch. She also says she's not used to being notorious, and that she finds publicity that focuses on her person unsettling.

But being MD of the ABC is a very public role, so Guthrie is going to have to get used to attracting a bit of attention, especially since the media is so highly politicised in Australia. Polarisation occurs from the top down too, with politicians such as conservative Peter Dutton publicly complaining that they think the ABC is too left wing. Then there's the IPA and their friends in the Murdoch press always on the lookout for weak spots in the public broadcaster's armour that can be exploited for private reasons.

Perhaps Guthrie is not suited to the job. Her predecessor, Mark Scott, came from a media background too - he was an executive with Fairfax Media - and he was very visible in the community, running a Twitter account that was highly subscribed. It sounds callous to put it that way but you have to consider that the ABC sits at the centre of the public sphere in Australia, in fact it plays a unique role. You could say that it is a linchpin in the traffic of public messages of all kinds, from culture to science and from politics to the environment. In many ways it functions too to maintain a critical level of contact between the polarised halves of the community, as you see for example when shows such as Q and A gain attention. People who identify with both the left and the right side of politics can both participate in ABC-mediated discussions in a way that other platforms cannot enable. There is no mechanism in many countries that performs this role.

We can only hope that Guthrie comes to enjoy the public elements of her job. It might be a difficult ride for her if she cannot come to grips with being talked about in the media and by people in the community, many of whom have very strongly-held views about the viability of the public broadcaster.

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