News Corporation is reshaping the ABC in its own image

Michelle Guthrie
Contributed from Victoria

The effort of the Turnbull government to hamstring the ABC has taken another step. Government appointed chief, Michelle Guthrie has hired Jim Rudder, a veteran consultant to Rupert Murdoch’s global empire, who began at Foxtel in Sydney, and has spent most of his career working for Sky. He also spent a year as news director for Channel Nine in 2003.

Guthrie herself has spent most of her career with Murdoch’s News Corporation.  With BSkyB in London, Foxtel in Sydney and Star TV in Hong Kong.

This  may be only two Murdoch connected personnel in senior roles. But they are decisive strategic roles, intended to direct where the ABC goes to in the near future. With their entry, Murdoch has achieved an effective in into the public broadcaster.

Rudder’s job is to help implement the strategic objectives that have been set that in the new management’s words are aimed at “lifting performance and transforming work cultures.”

Changes brought down from the top have already created friction with staff, with some of the ABC’s most prominent presenters urging resistance to the direction of change.  The axing of science program Catalyst has caused a lot of angst. So, has the decision to do away with the Inside SleeveThe Live SetThe Daily Planet and The Rhythm Divine programs that have been important to ensuring Australian music content on radio. Current affairs programs and news services have been affected and are sighted for attention.

The argument put forward by top management is that change is necessary to keep up with the digital revolution in media. Adaptation is important. But this is not really what it’s all about. If the truth be said, the ABC is cut down operating costs and set it up as a commercial network, where parts can later be passed on to private operators.

Till now, the ABC’s brief was to be different and use taxpayer’s money to give a boost to the arts and Australia’s cultural heritage. The ABC has over the years presented music, not only of local artists, but also of a range of forms. Locally made drama has always been important. Because it involves local content and production, it is more expensive. This is not so big a problem when the prime objective is not to deliver dividends to shareholders.

Shifting over to operating on a commercial basis will push the ABC to increasing reliance on syndicated content and constant re-runs of old programs,  mirroring other commercial networks. If pursued, this will either ultimately undermine the ABC or set it up for the privatisation of key parts.

The bringing in of Murdoch connected management suggests that this is exactly where the ABC is going. There is a conflict of interest. Murdoch has long been a critic of the ABC. Its flagship media has consistently raised the accusation of leftist bias and demanded cuts to government funding. This comes from a media empire that has a clear ideological bent of its own, is the most restrictive in the breadth of its coverage and has made no secret of its wish for the silencing of the ABC.

In addition to this, Murdoch seeks significant changes to existing media and cross media ownership laws, so that it can take over a larger portion of Australia’s electronic media. It has used the weakness of existing law to move into the digital world, much of which is now under Murdoch control. The ABC is a rival to get rid of, or absorb.

Back in June the support group, Friends of ABC expressed its view that a Murdoch had plans for the ABC. The spoof video below from the Friends tells the story.

All this has fitted in with the Turnbull government’s increasing turn towards authoritarianism that has continued the push by his deposed predecessor Tony Abbott. It has made no secret of wishing to silence the ABC and it does have an interest in placating the Coalition’s number one backer, Murdoch.


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