Departing ABC managing director Mark Scott says he is open to another ‘big job’

Outgoing ABC managing director, Mark Scott, has signalled he remains open to “big jobs and big opportunities”, as he departs after a decade at the helm of the public broadcaster.

Scott: there will be consequence if funding is not renewed.

Scott: there will be consequences if news funding is not renewed.

In a wide-ranging interview with Media Watch host, Paul Barry, last night, the 54-year-old managing director spoke about the challenges facing all media, criticisms of political bias and warned of “significant job losses” if the Coalition government failed to renew the additional news funding it received in 2013 under Labor.

On the question of his own future, Scott told Barry:” I’m going to take a break for a while. I have had some good advice on this – it is time to take a break to pause and to reflect – I hope that there are still big jobs and big opportunities that lie ahead for me but at the moment I’m not sure what they are.”

However, the ABC honcho also made clear his time in the role was not yet over, pushing the government to renew funding for its news division and warning that 10% of the news budget was at stake.

“We got given extra funding to invest more in our news services and I think we have spent that money well,” said Scott. “We created a bunch of local websites, created a team of investigative reporters, and more investment in regional areas, so that funding is up at the moment and if it doesn’t get renewed then there will be significant job losses that may go through all the way to programming.

“What is at risk is 10% of our news budget, and I have said to Canberra there clearly will be consequences to news and programming if that money doesn’t come back.”

Scott also addressed criticisms from the right of the political spectrum – particularly from News Corp – that the ABC had become too big and too powerful in the digital space.

“The ABC was never set up to do the things that others wouldn’t do. If you look at our charter it talks about doing programming of wide appeal and specialist interest,” said Scott.

“The problems that newspapers face have nothing to do with the ABC or public broadcasters…”

Challenged on this by host Paul Barry, who questioned if the ABC’s free online content helped undermine the paywalls of News Corp and Fairfax, Scott responded: “Let’s look at that they have two challenges: one is what has happened to their advertising and their advertising has disappeared – not to the ABC, we don’t take a dollar of that – it is disappearing to Facebook, to Google, to Apple to all the choices that advertisers have now – that has nothing to do with the ABC.

“When it comes to paywalls newspapers are being challenged about getting people to pay for content but it’s not because there is a public broadcaster in the market. It is because there are hundreds of millions of free websites that are offering content without charging for it, including so many news services.

The Media Watch host noted the ABC was the third most read news website in Australia and questioned whether it was a “big competitor”.

Scott also addressed criticism that the ABC is left-leaning and that its news priorities are not always aligned with middle Australia.

Said the ABC boss: “We have worked hard on that over the years… we are not the least bit complacent about it. I think the answer, in truth, is that we do very well most of the time but we are probably not as good as we would always like to be.

“At times we will fall short, at times humans exercising real judgment in front of a live microphone will make errors and we have to accept that and I think the public is very understanding of that.

Barry also quoted Newspoll figures that three in 10 Australian never watch the ABC and asked why their taxpayer dollars should fund the public broadcaster.

Scott responded: Because I think it is a public good. Australians have a proud tradition of public and private hospitals, public and private education systems working side-by-side. Australians overwhelming think that the ABC represents value for money – some 85% and some 70% watch, listen, log-in every week and I think increasingly there will be a need for the ABC to be the independent home of Australian conversations, culture and stories.

“To make the investment in news and current affairs… to make the investment in Australian drama, arts and culture and I think these are the things that commercial media is going to struggle to do given the global competition that is flooding in.

The ABC boss was also asked if he believed he had a choice in driving his media outlet into digital.

“I think we did have a choice but if we hadn’t done what we’d done then the ABC would be in decline, said Scott. “If we had just sat back where we were and been a traditional, old-style linear broadcaster we would still be held in great affection but we wouldn’t be as relevant and I don’t think our future is as healthy as it is today.

Asked what he was most proud of, Scott responded: “some of the news services like ABC News 24 or an iView I’m very proud of. We didn’t get any extra government funding for that, we made a number of savings within the organisation, we reprioritised and we created those two new services.”

Scott will hand over to Google executive Michelle Gurthie in a fortnight.

Nic Christensen

Watch the full extended interview with Scott here.


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