Balding appointed ABC Managing Director

The ABC Board has announced the appointment of Russell Balding as the corporation’s new Managing Director, effective immediately.

Chairman Donald McDonald says the ABC Board “unanimously agreed to offer the position to Mr Balding, following an extensive search.”

“The Board believes Mr Balding is the right person to lead the ABC in an age of rapid change in the national and international broadcasting environment. He already enjoys the support and confidence of the ABC’s senior management team and staff, and is ideally placed to continue to provide the organisation with leadership and direction,” said McDonald.

“When he joined the ABC as General Manager Finance in 1996, Russell Balding brought to the ABC a wealth of experience and knowledge, following a very successful career in public sector administration. Over the past six years, he has made a very significant contribution to the growth of the ABC as the nation’s foremost broadcast organisation.

“Indeed, in the last six months, while Mr Balding has been Acting Managing Director, the ABC has enjoyed a period of particularly strong growth in all its audiences, with market share in TV, Radio and Online Services increasing significantly”.

McDonald commented: “now that the selection process has been concluded, it is imperative that the ABC should be permitted to get on with what it is good at, which is making and broadcasting programs of the highest possible quality throughout the entire country and the Asia Pacific region.”

Russell Balding said he is delighted at being appointed Managing Director: “I have enormous confidence in the creative talent, dedication and vast experience of the staff of the ABC, and together we look forward to continuing to provide all Australians with the best radio and television programs and online content”.

A late flurry of activity in favour of Trevor Kennedy failed to secure him an interview and caused divisions within the board. ABC insiders are saying that the decision is a victory for Donald McDonald and has weakened Michael Kroger’s position on the board.

Balding’s comments –
Responding to critical comments about his appointment, Russell Balding has denied criticism by 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones that the ABC is “in a shambles.”

“Have a look at our performance over the last six months, we are performing exceptionally well across all our three platforms… Radio audiences are at record levels… Compare the last six months to the previous six months, the ABC is performing exceptionally well, it is not in a shambles nor is it leaderless. We have a very good executive and management group in place and they’re doing an exceptionally good job,” Balding told ABC Radio’s PM.

Reaction –
The Friends of the ABC organisation believes Balding will “return stability to the national broadcaster” and the Federal Opposition has welcomed the appointment.

Incoming staff-elected director Ramona Koval she says she is “confident it will be a smooth transition… I think a knowledge of the public broadcaster and knowledge of the culture of fairness and independence of the public broadcaster will be an asset,” she said.

Various ABC executives told AMT they supported Balding and looked forward to a period where they could “get on with making programs without interference.”

Speaking on ABC Radio National’s Media Report CIRCIT’s Terry Laidler congratulated the Board on its decision. Laidler priased the board for having “the courage to change its mind to show it believes in public broadcasting… It’s time now for everyone to get back to their jobs… It is not the job of politicians to interfere in the workings of the ABC,” said Laidler.

But on the other side of the fence the reaction has not been as positive.

Commercial media and government sources, who generally favoured someone other than an ABC insider, have viewed the appointment negatively.

One government source told AMT “the lunatics have taken over the asylum,” believing this appointment and the recent overthrow of Jonathan Shier indicates that ABC staff are looking after their own interests first, not the interests of Australians.

“The ABC board lacks any media experience. The same is true of the newly appointed Managing Director,” said an opinion piece by Mike Nathan in The Australian. “With its new managing director, the public broadcaster remains in the hands of the collective that presently controls it.”

In The Financial Review Tony Walker commented that “while Donald McDonald got his way… he used up just about all of his political credits in the process.”

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald Jennifer Hewett said: “The ABC board supposedly searched high and low – only to find middle.”