In a not-so-thinly-veiled swipe at former Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood, former ABC staff have urged Prime Minister Scott Morrison not to appoint a chairperson “who has displayed bias against the national broadcaster”.
Hywood – who by some is considered a front-runner to replace Justin Milne at the helm of the corporation – was among the commercial media’s leaders who have been critical of the ABC’s digital approach.
Hywood has previously lashed out at the ABC for “undermining” commercial media companies by “aggressively” competing with them for audience, and for giving money to Google for SEO marketing.
“Current media regulations designed for a legacy market prevent local media effectively competing for scale with international players such as Facebook and Google,” Hywood argued at the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism.
“ABC is creating additional pressure on commercial media by aggressively competing for the same audience that commercial media rely on by providing online content for free undermining our ability to create a sustainable model.
“The ABC also pays Google out of taxpayers’ money, who pay negligible tax, and spend nothing on local content provision for search engine marketing, that means that the ABC stories appear higher on search terms such as national news, international news and restricts our ability to generate revenue from our audience.”
Now, former ABC staffers have written an open letter to Morrison, implying Hywood would not meet the threshold for the role of chairperson.
“The threshold public interest test must be whether a candidate has a strong track record of support for the ABC and the concept of public media generally,” the letter said.
“Commercial media executives who lobbied to restrict the ABC’s online activities and confine it to areas regarded as uneconomic for commercial media should be disqualified from consideration.”
The group of former staffers, calling themselves ABC Alumni, also urged the government not to rush the appointment, and instead to wait until after the Senate Inquiry into allegations of political interference at the broadcaster delivers its findings in a few months.
“The current process of selecting and appointing board members is open to political interference and needs urgent reform,” the letter said.
The chairperson role became available after Malcolm Turnbull’s appointment, Justin Milne, resigned amidst rising pressure after managing director Michelle Guthrie was sacked, and there were accusations of political interference and inappropriate behaviour levied against him.