Former Seven West Media chief financial officer Peter Lewis has officially been appointed to the board of the ABC.
Last month Mumbrella revealed Lewis, who also authored a report on cost efficiencies the public broadcaster could make, was a front runner for the vacant seat.
At the time the proposed appointment drew opposition from group Friends of the ABC which said “hit would be improper and highly inappropriate” for him to take a seat on the board.
The news comes the day after the ABC board met to consider how it would go ahead with cost savings imposed on it in the Federal Government’s budget in May, with news, children’s and science shows all up for cuts.
In July conservative commentator Janet Albrechtsen and former deputy leader of the Liberal Party Neil Brown, a move which drew criticism from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which represents many ABC staff, which accused the government of attempting to return to an era when board appointments were made based on the political alignment of the candidate.
“Once again this Government is attempting to wind back the clock to an era when government think it is acceptable to appoint your mates and cheerleaders to plum positions in the public sector. Appointing Janet Albrechtsen and Neil Brown as gatekeepers for board positions on the ABC and SBS is a prime example of this Government’s modus operandi,” said Michael Tull, President of the CPSU.
In today’s announcement Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote: “He will be a valuable addition to the ABC Board, bringing with him extensive and deep industry knowledge and experience. Mr Lewis has been appointed for five years.”
Lewis left a role as chief operating officer for Southern Cross Austereo in July after just a month, and is currently director of finance for Acquire Learning based in Melbourne.
His board experience includes positions with Yahoo!7, Australian news Channel and TXA Australia.
Update: The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and ABC Friend have this afternoon both issued a statement criticising the appointment:
“The government is appointing to the ABC Board the author of government endorsed recommendations that are currently under consideration by that Board.
This will be viewed as a hostile appointment that it is simply politically motivated.
The Board has a statutory obligation to uphold the ABC Charter and to be independent of the govt. This appointment has the potential to undermine that independence. This is because the Govt is appointing the person who has just completed a controversial, and secret, review of the ABC. The ABC Board is currently considering that review, and the government is trying, via threatened budget cuts , to force the ABC to adopt the review recommendations.
The appointment would clearly undermine public confidence in the independence of the Board., and also creates a personal conflict of interest for Mr Lewis.
The only way to resolve those problems would be for govt to rethink this appointment, or, if it proceeds, to drop the Lewis Report – the Govt cannot have both.
CPSU also says that, if this appointment proceeds, then Mr Lewis should absent himself from any Board deliberations related to his report, and if Mr Lewis did not volunteer to do so then the ABC Board would have to consider its procedures in respect of Mr Lewis.”
“The Government’s appointment to the ABC’s governing board of Peter Lewis conveys an alarming message about the ABC’s future,” said Glenys Stradijot, ABC Friends National spokesperson. “ABC Friends believes his appointment is improper and inappropriate.”
The Government has announced the appointment of Peter Lewis – the former chief financial officer of Seven West Media and Southern Cross Austereo and the person who conducted the Government’s efficiency review of the ABC – to the ABC Board.
“Mr Lewis’s background is in commercial media finance – skills which are totally unsuited to the governing board of a public broadcaster and the country’s foremost cultural institution.
“Mr Lewis’s appointment appears to be a reward for him having devised a blueprint for how the ABC should be cut. It also looks to be an attempt by the Government to impose an agenda of commercialisation on the ABC.
“Peter Lewis should never have been appointed to conduct a review of the ABC due to his recent employment in senior roles with media companies that are competitors of the ABC. It is even worse that someone with such a clear potential for conflict of interest has been appointed to the broadcaster’s governing board.
“With its cuts to ABC funding and its first appointment to the ABC Board, this government is demonstrating contempt for the nation’s independent public broadcaster, said Glenys Stradijot.