Walkleys host Sarah Ferguson brands ABC redundancy plans ‘shark pools’

Ferguson presenting last night's awards

Ferguson presenting last night’s awards

ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson last night hit out at ABC management saying staff are in “shark pools” waiting to see if they will be made redundant, and defended the “legacy” elements of TV and radio at the corporation following comments from its head of digital.

The 7.30 anchor made the comments as part of her opening monologue as the host of last night’s Walkley Awards for excellence in journalism, saying: “I was going to do a little bit of satire tonight, a little bit of light hearted entertainment, but then I remembered how much grief you get into when serious people from serious programs try to be funny. So I thought better of it.

“So many of my ABC colleagues, journalists like us, some of them in this room indeed, are right now in their pre-Christmas shark pools waiting to find out if they’re going to be jobless by Christmas day. It’s just not funny, and I can’t be laughing about it.”

At the event in Sydney last night editor-in-chief of the West Australian newspaper Bob Cronin hit out at the Australian Press Council (APC), describing it as “Disneyland”, in relation to criticisms of its outgoing chairman Julian Disney.

Referring to the West Australian’s decision to leave the APC and set up its own complaints board the veteran newsman, who was picking up the award for leadership, said: “When I’d finally decided I’d had enough of Disneyland and were leaving the Press Council Kerry (Stokes) stood by me, and I think I certainly have never regretted that decision, and I think some of my fellow editors may rue the day they didn’t come along.”

During her speech Ferguson also hit back  at remarks by Watt at a conference the day before, with The Australian reporting he asked editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed Ben Smith: “The question … is about structure, so we are real admirers of organisations like yourselves, true digit­al organisations, who don’t have like us a legacy to deal with.”

Ferguson retorted last night: “Yesterday I was at the Walkleys Storyology conference when the head of ABC Digital, inspired no doubt by his digital idol the head of Buzzfeed, referred to TV and radio at the ABC as a legacy that needed to be dealt with. It’s an interesting word legacy I think. You know legacy is the word Qantas uses to describe all those bits of the airline that aren’t Jetstar.

“The way I look at it legacy is what my fast departing colleagues with their years of broadcasting experience leave behind for those of us who still hold fast to the idea that the journalism we do on radio and television is important. These days of course they call it content.

“You imagine what the digital world would look like without it. Sorry for being a little bit Four Corners and fierce, but we here, all of us, see constantly how the media is changing.”

In a short address before announcing an award Quentin Dempster, sacked from his role at the ABC on Friday, also had a few words for the corporation.

“I am bathed in love and solidarity all week, but I’m desperately concerned about our colleagues at ABC and SBS, our colleagues at Channel Ten and all media because of the fundamental changes that are happening in media, but seeing a lot of our colleagues in full-time work leave the industry is a major problem,” he said.

The awards were live streamed on ABC iView, and you can see them here. Ferguson’s monologue starts at 10 minutes in.

Alex Hayes


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