News, Culture & Society

Michelle Guthrie’s sacking as the ABC’s managing director could cost taxpayers millions

Taxpayers could be slugged millions of dollars after the ABC’s sacked managing director threatened legal action.

Michelle Guthrie was dumped as the public broadcaster’s boss on Monday, halfway through her five-year term.

Just hours after her shock firing, a ‘devastated’ Ms Guthrie issued a statement saying she was ‘considering my legal options’. 

Ms Guthrie has now hired barrister Kate Eastman SC of New Chambers and employment lawyer Ruveni Kelleher of commercial law firm JWS, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. 

As the ABC is funded by the federal government, any costs they could have to pay would effectively fall back on taxpayers.

Former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie (pictured) said she is ‘considering my legal options’ after she was sacked from the position on Monday 

The national broadcaster's chairman Justin Milne (left) and the board sacked Ms Guthrie (right) on Monday 

The national broadcaster’s chairman Justin Milne (left) and the board sacked Ms Guthrie (right) on Monday 

Ms Guthrie was on $891,000-a-year, with the publication reporting sources at the ABC had not been able to confirm her payout.

If Ms Guthrie was paid out for her five-year contract, she would receive more than $2.2million, based on her annual salary.  

The ABC’s chairman Justin Milne and seven other board members sacked Ms Guthrie, the first female managing director, following a clash over its direction and a series of controversial calls.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported it was understood Ms Guthrie had been asked to stepped down from the job on September 13 but had refused, forcing the board to move against her.  

In her statement following her sacking, Ms Guthrie added that ‘at no point have any issues been raised with me’ about her staffing changes.

‘I am devastated by the board’s decision to terminate my employment despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part,’ Ms Guthrie said.

‘I believe there is no justification for the board to trigger that termination clause.’

But it is understood the board had raised concerns with Ms Guthrie about her frequent trips to Singapore, where her husband lives, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. 

Ms Guthrie (pictured), the first female managing director of the ABC, was sacked halfway though her five-year term

Ms Guthrie (pictured), the first female managing director of the ABC, was sacked halfway though her five-year term

Ms Guthrie made it known from the start that she was fond of the popular reality show Gogglebox (pictured) over any of the broadcaster's programs

Ms Guthrie made it known from the start that she was fond of the popular reality show Gogglebox (pictured) over any of the broadcaster’s programs

ABC host Annabel Crabb (centre) was pictured being filmed outside ABC's Ultimo studios on Monday. She was joined by comedian Mark Humphries (second left) 

ABC host Annabel Crabb (centre) was pictured being filmed outside ABC’s Ultimo studios on Monday. She was joined by comedian Mark Humphries (second left) 

Directors had also reportedly been concerned about her visibility in the office. 

Mr Milne had said Ms Guthrie’s removal as managing director was about ‘our commitment to deliver best possible outcomes for our loyal audience’.

‘In resolving to seek fresh leadership, the board’s foremost consideration was the long-term interests of our own people and the millions of Australians who engage in ABC content every week,’ Mr Milne said.

‘The board wishes to thank Michelle for her contribution to the ABC.

‘We are very grateful for all her hard work.’

Insiders have revealed that before she was sacked, Ms Guthrie made it clear she rarely watched the news. 

Not long after she was hired, Ms Guthrie told colleagues she was fond of the popular reality show Gogglebox over any of the broadcaster’s programs, according to The Australian.

ABC journalists told the publication that Ms Guthrie’s interest in news and current affairs were minimal – despite managing the public broadcaster. 

The former 53-year-old former Foxtel and Google executive said that she was keen on more positive stories about successful business leaders for the network's show 'Four Corners' (stock image)

The former 53-year-old former Foxtel and Google executive said that she was keen on more positive stories about successful business leaders for the network’s show ‘Four Corners’ (stock image)

Staff told the publication that her lack of understanding of basic journalism was ‘astounding’.

They also claimed she didn’t understand that the ABC didn’t thrive off lifestyle programs.

‘She rarely watched the news. This was the woman who was head of the public broadcaster for f**k’s sake,’ a former ABC executive producer said.

ABC insiders said in the past five months Ms Guthrie had effectively become ‘dead woman walking’.

The former media lawyer was welcomed to the ABC in the hopes that she had a clear understanding of what was needed to target a younger audience.

It quickly became clear that Ms Guthrie wasn’t prepared to step into the demanding position, staff told the publication. 

‘There was total bewilderment over at Google when Guthrie got the job,’ another insider said.

Ms Guthrie (pictured) was reportedly hated by sections of the ABC for controversially axing 200 positions

Ms Guthrie (pictured) was reportedly hated by sections of the ABC for controversially axing 200 positions

The Michelle Guthrie era

* May 2016: Former media lawyer and Google executive Michelle Guthrie takes over from Mark Scott as the ABC’s managing director. Liberal senator Eric Abetz says she will have to end the ‘lefty love-in’ at the public broadcaster.

* October 2016: Ms Guthrie, at a Senate estimates hearing, rejects suggestions made in an opinion piece by former ABC presenter Jonathan Holmes that the public broadcaster is biased towards the left.

* February 2017: Both sides of politics criticise Ms Guthrie over a decision to switch off the ABC’s shortwave radio service in the Northern Territory and parts of the Pacific. She insists in a Senate hearing the ABC would still be broadcast via FM and AM frequencies, the viewer access satellite television (VAST) service and online in the areas.

* March 2017: The ABC boss announces sweeping changes at the ABC, including axing a fifth of management, spending millions worth of savings on making new content and beefing up the broadcaster’s presence in regional Australia.

* November 2017: Ms Guthrie reveals a plan to dismantle the divide between the public broadcaster’s TV, radio and online divisions to instead create content across all platforms.

* May 8, 2018: The ABC boss lashes out at federal budget cuts to the broadcaster, saying a proposed $84 million hit can’t be absorbed by efficiency measures alone.

* May 24, 2018: Calls for ABC to reconsider its advertising spending, after it was revealed in Senate estimates it had spent $440,000 on Google Ad Words and $1.4 million in Facebook advertising during the year.

* June 2018: Ms Guthrie rejects calls from within the Liberal party to privatise the public broadcaster, saying the commercial media sector doesn’t need a new ‘advertising behemoth’.

* August 2018: The ABC faces calls to justify its plans to create new digital lifestyle-focused projects, with free-to-air TV lobby group FreeTV saying lifestyle is ‘one of the most comprehensively covered market segments in Australian media’.

* September 2018: Ms Guthrie is sacked, with the board declaring it is ‘not in the best interests’ of the broadcaster for her to continue in the role.

Source: Australian Associated Press 

The insider said that Ms Guthrie was also no longer welcomed at her role at Google, saying she had been sidelined on special projects in the company.  

Six months after she began her role as managing director at ABC, Ms Guthrie sat in on a meeting for Four Corners and was asked what she would like to see on the popular program, according to The Australian. 

Reporters said the former 53-year-old former Foxtel and Google executive said she was keen on more positive stories about successful business leaders.

They claim she then shared her thoughts on a story that had previously run on the program revealing the horrifying ordeal children were enduring in Nauru.

Ms Guthrie told the reporters that the story should have included ‘happy children’, the publication reported.

‘There was a really long pause until one reporter said, ‘Um, there are no happy children on Nauru’. It was scary,’ a veteran reporter said.   

Her management, which has been described by staff as ‘corporate Google cult-style’, saw newsrooms across the country revolt.

Ms Guthrie’s time as the ABC’s managing director will be remembered for low staff morale, redundancies and budget cuts, the national journalist’s union says.

Under Ms Guthrie's (pictured) leadership in March, 200 journalists were controversially retrenched from newsrooms to create a $50 million new Content Fund, where different divisions with new ideas could bid for funding

Under Ms Guthrie’s (pictured) leadership in March, 200 journalists were controversially retrenched from newsrooms to create a $50 million new Content Fund, where different divisions with new ideas could bid for funding

She expressed that she wanted the network’s website to be the most viewed in the world – with many believing that she didn’t care for quality or content produced, only the reach.

Workers also told The Australian that the network was shocked that head of news, Gavin Morris, eventually fell in line with ‘the Guthrie strategy’ rather than ‘defending his turf’.  

Under her leadership last year, 200 middle-management staff were retrenched, with the savings put into a new $50 million Great Ideas Grant, in which different divisions could bid for funding.

Another 20 capital-city newsroom journalists were sacked in April to make way for new digital and regional reporters.

Ms Guthrie’s digital-first strategy has been hated by commercial media, with revelations in May the ABC had spent $2 million promoting its online stories on Google and Facebook.   

David Anderson, who was director of entertainment and specialist content, has been appointed as the acting managing director.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk