Australia

ABC sacks MD Michelle Guthrie halfway through term

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has been sacked just two-and-a-half years into her five-year term, the corporation's chairman has said in a shock announcement.

The ABC said the directors resolved it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation.

Chairman Justin Milne said the decision was made in the "long-term interests of our own people and the millions of Australians who engage with ABC content every week".

Mr Milne was reluctant to explain what led to the decision "out of respect for Michelle", but when pressed said Ms Guthrie's "leadership style" was a factor.

"The board felt in the end that her leadership style was not the style that we needed going forward," he said.

"We needed a different leadership style and that is the decision of the board."

Mr Milne also said Ms Guthrie's relationship with the Government "could have been better".

"That said, I think Michelle tried hard and was involved with government," he said.

"In an ideal world, I would like to see our relationship — I think the relationship between the ABC and Government is, on the one hand, difficult because of course we need to be independent from government, but it is an important relationship because the government funds us."

The ABC Chairman has confirmed that the national broadcaster's Managing Director Michelle Guthrie has left her position.

He said political leaders did not pressure the ABC or have any involvement in its decision to sack Ms Guthrie.

The chairman praised Ms Guthrie's performance in relation to the ABC's adaptation to the digital environment.

"I personally think Michelle has done a good job, and the board has been very happy with many, many of the things that she does," he said.

He said the decision to sack the managing director was not a reflection on the selection process when she was appointed as Mark Scott's successor, given that executive appointments could be a "lottery".

"It doesn't always work out, you know. It is one of the most difficult things that you do in business, make selections of employees. It doesn't always work out," he said.

"Sometimes it takes a while for it not to work out.

"So in this case the board decided that it wasn't working out and decided that we should do a reset, and that is what we have decided to do."

Mr Milne thanked Ms Guthrie for her hard work since taking the position in May 2016.

"The board wishes to thank Michelle for her contribution to the ABC," Mr Milne said.

"We are very grateful for all her hard work."

'They're an independent board': Prime Minister

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Government would not seek a "please explain" from the ABC board.

"I spoke to the Communications Minister last night who advised me about the decision of the board," he said.

"Let's not forget, they're an independent board. It's their job. They would need to have gone through all the proper processes to make the decision they have.

"I want to see an ABC that's strong and doing its job and that's well run. That's what the board is responsible for."

But Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said the reason for the sacking should be made public.

"The dismissal of the managing director, seemingly without notice, requires a full and detailed explanation from the ABC board," Senator Abetz said.

Four people sitting at the front of a studio.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield thanked Ms Guthrie, and said the Government acknowledged her service in a "challenging and rapidly changing media environment".

Ms Guthrie wanted the ABC to be 'meaningful'

A former Singapore-based executive with Google, Ms Guthrie was the ABC's first female managing director.

She began her career as a media lawyer and has worked with a range of media companies in Australia and abroad, including Foxtel, BSkyB, and the Asian-based Star television network.

Ms Guthrie had previously stated her mission was to ensure the national broadcaster's longevity for future generations.

"I wanted the ABC to be as meaningful and relevant to my children and their children as it has been to me during my lifetime," she told the ABC's first annual public meeting last February.

Throughout her tenure, Ms Guthrie defended her stewardship by pointing to innovations such as the $50 million Great Ideas Grant, the streamlining of the ABC's structure, and her championing of diversity in the organisation's hiring practices.

At the same time, she faced robust criticism over the ABC's news coverage by some members of the Federal Government.

'How do you put a price on the value of the ABC?': Michelle Guthrie questions the critics

Search for successor to begin 'immediately'

David Anderson, the ABC's director of entertainment and specialist, will serve as acting managing director until a formal search process finds Ms Guthrie's successor.

Mr Anderson has a 30-year career in the media industry and has been responsible for leading the ABC's broadcast television networks and associated services, radio music networks, podcasts and specialist radio content.

He said it was an honour to lead the corporation.

"I recognise the challenges involved in transitions of this kind, but I am honoured to accept the board's invitation and look forward to working with our outstanding people to execute our strategy," he said.

The ABC board has commenced a formal search, both internally and externally, for Ms Guthrie's replacement.

ABC managing directors are selected by the board, independently of the government and opposition.

Mr Milne said finding Ms Guthrie's successor was a matter of urgency.

"At this stage of the year in September everybody says 'we will get this done by Christmas', and that would be good, but I just don't know because it depends on the process," he said.

"We think it is something that will occupy the board immediately. It will take a lot of bandwidth from us."

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