COMMUNAL leaders have welcomed the appointment of Michelle Guthrie as the managing director of the ABC but added that she has a tough task ahead of her.
Guthrie, who has been based in Singapore as an executive at Google, will replace Mark Scott in May next year, and become the first female managing director of Australia’s national broadcaster.
Last month, noting there has been considerable concern over the ABC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a number of recent reports lacking balance and context, The AJN urged the board to appoint a managing director who would tackle the anti-Israel bias.
Examples included a story that was introduced with the line, “Just hours ago Israeli security forces shot two more Palestinians after they tried to board a school bus south of Jerusalem.” However, what wasn’t mentioned was that the two Palestinians were armed with knives and had just stabbed a man.
Concern over anti-Israel bias at the ABC is not just shared by communal leaders. Three weeks ago during a Senate estimates committee hearing, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz grilled Scott over the pro-Palestinian slant in various reports.
Abetz told The AJN that the ABC was responsible for “gross misrepresentation of Israel, its people and policies”, and was guilty of a “complete failure of ethical reporting, of accurate reporting and of truthful reporting”.
Wishing Guthrie well in her new role, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) Peter Wertheim said that she will bring an impressive set of credentials to the position in business and the law.
“She will need to use her skills proactively in order to overcome the dominance of the generally anti-Western and anti-Israel bias in the ABC’s news and current affairs reporting and documentaries, which we and others have highlighted in recent years,” Wertheim said.
“Addressing this culture would probably not be popular with ABC reporters and producers, and would require rare leadership and courage.”
His comments were echoed by Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein, who said Guthrie has a huge challenge to “reform the ABC’s increasingly problematic trajectory and restore both the public broadcaster’s reputation and its ability to properly perform its vital public role”.
He added, “The ABC is an important national institution but, sadly, it seems increasingly to be failing to live up to the role laid out for it in its Charter and the standards of professionalism required by its Editorial Code of Conduct.
“Some staff members seem to feel that ‘editorial independence’ means independence from professionalism or from responsibility for their conduct, while the ABC complaints procedure appears to act as the ABC’s defence attorney, rather than as an impartial arbiter.”
He said that AIJAC wishes Guthrie well in her pivotal role and will try and meet her at the earliest opportunity.