Ita Buttrose’s first test as incoming ABC chair will be to remain impartial, according to a media analyst who says her appointment was political.
Peter Cox, who has advised media companies for over 30 years, says the Morrison government’s decision to handpick the 77-year-old publishing icon was “odd,” given she wasn’t included on a shortlist of recommendations for the position.
“This is obviously a political choice as the government is loading up all the tribunals and government bodies with Liberal Party people before the election,” Mr Cox told AAP on Thursday.
“This is not unusual, both parties do it leading up to elections they think they are going to lose.
“But it’s odd to do when you have a body there that’s available, that had done all the work, they were looking into people they were considering … I doubt they even got a look in.”
The coalition spent $163,000 on a recruitment process – required through legislation brought in by a previous Labor government – that it then ignored.
Former ABC staff similarly questioned the decision to bypass the nomination panel.
“This is another example of a ‘captain’s pick’ and could be seen as ‘stacking’ of the board,” the group ABC Alumni said in a statement.
“It is lamentable that the list put forward by the Nomination Panel was inadequate, again showing the farcical nature of the selection process.”
Mr Cox said Ms Buttrose’s first test as chair would be to remain impartial and defend the public broadcaster against political interference.
“Plenty of other people in history have been appointed by parties – either Liberal or Labor – but have turned out to be very independent and sometimes a thorn in the side of those who appointed them,” he said.
“So that will really be the test for her as to whether she can be independent, whether she can defend the ABC against its many critics – and most importantly – whether she can defend the ABC against the government of the day.”
Mr Cox said Ms Buttrose’s strength lied in her ability to navigate the politics of Canberra but noted her limited experience in digital media.
He said it was vital the ABC’s next managing director, who Ms Buttrose will have a hand in picking, has sufficient experience in the area.
“If they can appoint someone strong in that regard, perhaps the chairman and the managing director can balance out their different skills,” Mr Cox said.
“The ABC will be able to maintain its technical excellence even though she may not personally have that in her, but neither did the lawyers and other people considered for the position.”