Fairfax exec Mark Scott to head ABC

The search for a new ABC managing director has ended with the board announcing the appointment of a print media executive, Fairfax’s editorial director, 43 year old Mark Scott.

His appointment follows the resignation of ABC managing director Russell Balding who quit the corporation to become chief executive officer of Sydney airport.

ABC Chairman Donald McDonald has told radioinfo the Board unanimously approved Scott’s appointment after “a national and international search that produced an outstanding field of candidates.” He was interviewed on ABC Radio’s World Today program (click below to listen).

McDonald says Scott is “an exceptional media professional” who has a distinguished academic
record and comes to the ABC from John Fairfax Publications. He believes Mark Scott has both “the media experience and drive
necessary to take the ABC confidently into the digital media future.”

Scott has a combination of editorial
experience, management skills, and proven ability to respond to the
challenges of a changing media environment, according to McDonald.

Mark Scott served in a range of senior roles over the past 10
years, including Editor-in-Chief of Metropolitan, Regional & Community
Newspapers, which included The Sydney Morning Herald, Sun Herald, The Age
and Sunday Age. His current role includes responsibility for editorial direction and
management of Fairfax newspapers, the publication of its general magazines,
along with Fairfax’s expansion of its newsrooms into digital media through
its successful websites smh.com.au and theage.com.au.

He will be appointed for a term of five
Years and will start in early July.

Scott says his appointment is “a tremendous opportunity” to take the helm of a media organisation that is known nationally and internationally for its strong and independent
journalism and its innovative programming:

“I am a great believer in a strong and robust national broadcaster. It
provides greater media choices for our audiences and can help create new
markets through the innovative use of technology. My first priority on starting as Managing Director in July will be to visit
ABC studios around the nation and talk to as many staff as possible about
the way we are serving our audiences and the potential for the future.

“The ABC brand is one of the most recognised and trusted brands in
Australia, reflecting the integral role ABC Radio, Television and Online
services play in the everyday lives of millions of Australians… and The regional role of the ABC through its 50 non-metropolitan radio stations
is a vital element of Australia’s media landscape and an information
lifeline for many of those communities.”

Friends of the ABC spokesperson Glenys Stradijot says she is concerned that, “in the present climate where there is so much political pressure on the ABC from the Government, and the ABC’s board has already been stacked, it is a big step for someone with no public broadcasting experience to move to managing the national broadcaster. He will be on a steep learning curve. He carries a huge responsibility as head of a great cultural institution and one which is meant to be independent of government and commercial influence.”

She says Scott must protect the ABC against advertising, which is the “very core of its independence.”

Friends of the ABC expects two critical things from the new managing director according to Stradijot:

”He should work to secure adequate funding for the ABC, so it is able to meet all of its charter responsibilities and is not marginalized in the emerging new digital media environment, [and] he must maintain the ABC’s independence – from government and commercial influence.”

National correspondent of the AFR Pamela Williams reports the story this morning saying the appointment is a bit of a gamble. She says the deal is believed to have been squared away by the Prime Minister after a recommendation from Donald McDonald, the ABC chairman and a close confidant of John Howard.

Williams says McDonald may be granted an extension of his term to assist the new managing director to settle in.

Scott, a one-time school teacher, worked in Liberal Party state politics as an education adviser to then NSW Opposition leader Nick Greiner and press secretary to education spokesman Terry Metherell in the 1990’s to whom he was later policy adviser in government.

In 1994 he went from state politics to journalism joining the Sydney Morning Herald as education writer. He has filled several newsroom roles at Fairfax including deputy editor of the Sydney Morning Herald but has spent recent years in editorial management.

He has no experience in broadcasting or as a chief executive.