The abrupt resignation of Maurice Newman AC from the crisis hit ABC Board is due to take effect today, after boardroom leaks by staff elected director, Ramona Koval, on election coverage monitoring.
Koval followed the practicies of past staff elected board representatives of reporting back to the “constituents” who had elected her, resulting in media leaks. But, current ABC Board governance standards do not support this kind of action, which is what Newman alluded to in his resignation letter.
Newman’s resignation has brought into sharp focus the processes of industrial democracy at work in the ABC and the use of media manipulation in those processes. The drama is being played out in the context of the lead up to an imminent Federal election.
ABC staff and unions believe they have a right to open disclosure from the Corporation’s Board, while conservatives believe this is an example of staff usurping control of the corporation.
In his resignation letter, dated 28 May (11 days after the matter of election coverage was aired on ‘Media Watch’), Newman cited “…gross breaches of boardroom confidentiality…” and fears of further leaks, but said the decision came with “…much regret…”:
“I have taken this decision because I can no longer be assured that accepted governance standards will be observed on the Board.
“You may be aware of the recent gross breach of boardroom confidentiality on the issue of independent monitoring of ABC broadcasts.
“This, and the inability to secure the agreement of the Staff Elected Director to the Board’s governance protocols, leaves open the potential for further leaking of boardroom deliberations and papers, should they be judged to be of concern.
“This will seriously undermine trust and respect among directors and the capacity of the Board to function effectively.
“I have enjoyed my time on the Board and I am privileged to have been present during a time of progress under Donald McDonald as Chair and Russell Balding as Managing Director. It is what makes the reasons for my departure so disappointing.”
Ramona Koval also issued a statement, in response to the resignation, saying:
“I regret Mr Newman’s decision to resign from the ABC Board and I wish him well for the future. I stand by my recent letter, raising concerns about political pressure and interference with the ABC Board.
“On legal advice, I was unable to agree with the Board code of conduct, as it would have been inconsistent with my legal obligations as an independent director to act in good faith and in the best interests of the Corporation and I’ve made my position clear on this to Mr Newman and to the Board, verbally and in writing, since I joined the Board over the past two years.”
Donald McDonald says the resignation is a matter of profound regret:
“Mr Newman’s particular contribution in working with the Board’s Finance Committee and in establishing the Directors’ Handbook and Code of Conduct has been invaluable.
“Mr Newman has asked that the attached letter (see link below), setting out the reasons for his resignation, be released.”
Shadow Communications’ Minister, Lindsay Tanner, says the crisis gives the Howard Government the opportunity to adopt Labor’s ABC Board appointment policy: “It provides for ABC Board candidates to be shortlisted at arms length from the Minister by an expert panel.
“The policy will end the appointment of political hacks to the ABC Board. It will ensure candidates with relevant experience are appointed.
“We must have no more Michael Krogers or Ron Bruntons on our ABC Board. Members must be appointed on merit, not mateship with the Liberal Party. The integrity and independence of the ABC depends on a better Board appointment process.
“Labor challenges the Government to adopt our policy now. John Howard must ensure no more political hacks, pursuing political agendas, are appointed to the ABC Board.”