Ax­ing ex­poses the ABC’s Mean Girls

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - JAMES WEIR -

“Their main is­sue seems to be that she loved Gog­gle­box. But

who doesn’t?

Af­ter the Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion was set ablaze this week by the sur­prise ax­ing of man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Michelle Guthrie, the cruel wind of irony blew through the ashes and into the faces of a smug few.

It turns out the woman some high-pro­file staffers pub­licly sought to bring down wasn’t the en­emy they should’ve feared most.

The mess that un­folded high­lighted some se­ri­ous con­cerns. Gov­ern­ment med­dling in the in­de­pen­dent pub­lic broad­caster was one.

But tak­ing a step back, some­thing more se­ri­ous came into fo­cus: the Mean Girl dy­nam­ics of the ABC — a place where Jon Faine is the Regina Ge­orge and Michelle Guthrie is the Cady Heron. Or maybe she’s that kooky goth girl Jan­ice. I don’t know, I’ve lost my­self with my own anal­ogy. But Jon is def­i­nitely Regina.

Ear­lier this month, for­mer for­eign min­ster Julie Bishop called out the “ap­palling be­hav­iour” that goes on in Can­berra. She said the “bul­ly­ing, in­tim­i­da­tion, ha­rass­ment” that goes on “would not be tol­er­ated in any other work­place across Aus­tralia”.

But it’s go­ing on some­where far more shock­ing — right un­der the watch­ful eye of the ABC’s Big Ted, who sat by and did noth­ing.

Guthrie was hated. But why? Mainly be­cause she wanted to digi­tise the ABC and that meant do­ing a bunch of computer stuff that old peo­ple who have worked there for a mil­lion years didn’t know how to do.

The old staffers hated her be­cause they didn’t know what stream­ing was. And younger staffers hated her be­cause they had to show all the old peo­ple how to up­date iTunes.

In the wake of Mon­day’s fir­ing, staffers glee­fully and anony­mously shared all the rea­sons the for­mer Google ex­ec­u­tive was un­fit for the top job.

Their main is­sue seems to be that she loved Gog­gle­box. But who doesn’t?

“She kept telling us all the time her favourite pro­gram was Gog­gle­box, and why couldn’t we have more cheap shows like that?” one for­mer ABC ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer told The Aus­tralian.

The idea hon­estly isn’t that stupid. If you say you wouldn’t watch Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabb and B2 (pic­tured with B1) sit­ting on a couch mak­ing bitchy com­ments about Com­mando on Sur­vivor then you’re ly­ing.

Staffers wailed that in a meet­ing for cur­rent af­fairs pro­gram Four Cor­ners, Guthrie sug­gested they pro­duce “more pos­i­tive pro­files on suc­cess­ful busi­ness lead­ers”.

Again, ter­rific idea. I’d watch any­thing in­volv­ing that Boost Juice lady Ja­nine Al­lis. In fact, put her on the Q&A panel with a bunch of other mil­lion­aire en­trepreneurs and have politi­cians come in one-by-one to pitch their new in­ven­tions for weird kitchen uten­sils.

In the hours fol­low­ing Guthrie’s ax­ing, staffers proudly told re­porters their for­mer boss was to­tally in­com­pe­tent.

“She had gone to Google with a good-look­ing CV, too, but ap­par­ently she was such a dis­ap­point­ment there as well that she had been side­lined on spe­cial projects in Sin­ga­pore with just a hand­ful of direct re­ports,” some­one sneered to The Aus­tralian.

So what? Don’t pre­tend you haven’t lied on a CV. It’s how I be­came 2IC of a Sun­glass Hut and ap­par­ently it’s how Guthrie got the top job lead­ing Aus­tralia’s in­de­pen­dent broad­caster. You do what you have to do in this cut­throat world, and if say­ing you in­vented the Google Doo­dle gets you the job then I ap­plaud your pluck.

It was only in the days that fol­lowed that staff be­gan to re­alise their neme­sis may have been their cru­sader.

A leaked email sur­faced, ap­par­ently from chair­man Justin Milne to Guthrie, de­mand­ing she fire po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor Emma Al­berici be­cause the gov­ern­ment hated her. Guthrie told him to jam it.

Turns out she was on her em­ploy­ees’ side all long.

But Guthrie’s bold move got lost in the drama and staff now had some­thing else to be fu­ri­ous about — gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence.

They took to the streets in protest, armed with signs. The signs weren’t as good as they could’ve been. Made from scraps of computer pa­per grabbed out of the re­cy­cling bin, they fea­tured pretty lack­lus­tre slo­gans.

“Hands off the ABC,” read the hand­writ­ten scrawl on one sign. I’m sure The Chaser boys could’ve come up with some­thing edgier if asked.

They hit the streets and Milne re­signed. But as staff stood hold­ing their computer pa­per signs, one thought lin­gered in their minds.

Is Gog­gle­box re­ally that bad?

Where was The Chaser team when ABC staff were de­sign­ing their protest posters?

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