Michelle Guthrie rejects accusations of being a ‘Murdoch-hatchet woman’ and ‘Google-ising’ the ABC

The ABC’s managing director, Michelle Guthrie, has rejected claims she is a “Murdoch-hatchet woman” and is “Google-ising the ABC” in her first in-depth television interview since she started in the role.

Guthrie was CEO of Murdoch-owned Star TV in Hong Kong from 2003 to 2007, before working at Google from 2011 to 2016. She joined the ABC in April 2016.

Guthrie speaks on ABC News’ One Plus One interview program

Speaking on ABC News’ One Plus One program, Guthrie said the accusations likely stemmed from a lack of familiarity and understanding of who she is, due to her spending more than 15 years off-shore.

“People didn’t know who I was because I’d been off-shore for quite a period of time,” she said.

“When there’s a vacuum, people read a lot into your CV.

“People said, ‘Well your longest period of time was at News Corp, so you must have these certain political views’ or ‘You came from Google so you’re going to Google-ise the ABC. And neither of those were true.”\

While Guthrie said the ABC should be open to criticism, personal criticism – such as being accused of being a “Murdoch-hatchet woman”- does hit her.

“I never felt my role at Star TV was remotely about being a hatchet woman. It was about building an incredible business across Asia.

“The idea that I would come to want to join the ABC and have such a privilege of joining the ABC and wanting to disembowel it, is beyond ridiculous frankly.”

However, Guthrie admitted Google had taught her the value of partnerships.

“My job at Google, even though I had three different roles, always involved partnerships and I did take a lot of that learning around how does Google work with broadcasters in the region, large websites, large telcos, advertising agencies in the region.

“As I came to the ABC, I thought of the ABC much more in terms of an ecosystem rather than a stand-alone organisation.

“The future of the way in which we will operate will be with much more of a partnership model, because as things are changing very quickly, you can’t be great at everything.”

Guthrie also said she did not feel a need to defend every criticism against the ABC, pointing out the one thing she always takes “tremendous measure of” was the trust and value the Australian population puts in the broadcaster.

“That’s something we care about deeply, but also that we monitor very very effectively, to make sure that continue to be providing value.

“Our journalism speaks for itself. When you look at the incredible work that’s been done on Four Corners around the Lindt Cafe program and others, my view is the work speaks for itself and the incredible talent we have speaks for itself.”

She also rejected criticism the ABC was spending money on advertising.

“It’s a crime to make great programs and not to tell people about it,” she said.

Commenting on the cuts to ‘legacy areas’ and programming, particularly around Radio National, Guthrie assured critics her intention was not to lose audiences.

“In this kind of media environment in which we operate, it’s inevitable programs will change and new programs will come up and other programs will find their time.

“That is how it should be,” she said.

“The intention is not to reduce the quality or distinctiveness of the programs that we do.

“Frankly the way in which we are going to make sure that we continue to be relevant is to have more quality and more distinctiveness.”

During Guthrie’s first week in her role in 2016, she had to appear before Senate estimates.

She said rather than asking for funds at the Senate estimates, the ABC needed to use what they had.

“All I can say is the way in which I behave, the way in which I manage, the way in which I look at my tasks at hand, and particularly for the funding of the ABC, at the time we were about one year in to our three-year funding cycle.

“My view is we know what our funding is going to be for the next three years and it’s incumbent on us, rather than asking for more funds to actually use the funds we have to the best of our ability and make the pivots that need to be made as our audience behaviour changes.”


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