Alex Mitchell’s Weekly Notebook – Murdoch’s legal fixer claims ABC’s top job

When are Australians going to get over the foolishness of giving uncritical support to women who become the “first female” to hold this or that top job?
It is not gender which determines whether someone will be good at a job or not. It is the quality of their values.
The great Martin Luther King Jr said in his “I have a dream” speech that he dreamed of a day when his four children would live in a nation where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”.
To bowdlerize King’s speech, the same applies to senior female appointments: they should not be judged by their gender but by the content of their character. It shouldn’t matter if the successful appointee is male, female, gay, black or white. What matters is their qualifications and values.
Which brings us to the appointment of Michelle Guthrie as the ABC’s new managing director. The usual shallow-minded suspects have hit the media to hail the “first female” to take on the job.
The trouble with this type of gender specific analysis is that ignores
Ms Guthrie’s all-important CV. Upon investigation we find that she has worked for media mogul Rupert Murdoch in three senior executive positions – at Asia’s Star TV, Britain’s BSkyB and Foxtel in Australia.

Legal fixer

Up until now, Ms Guthrie has been nothing more than a backroom corporate lawyer, a legal fixer for the Murdoch empire. She has no experience whatsoever of public broadcasting.
Unfortunately for Ms Guthrie nobody can “learn” public broadcasting. It’s something you believe in or you don’t. Believers are passionate about public broadcasting because they recognise its central role in the superstructure of any civilised, democratic country.
Public broadcasting embodies the cultural ambitions of a country and it plays a critical role in formal and civic education and therefore in advancing the economy. The ABC sets the highest standards for journalism, drama, music and current affairs: that’s why it scoops the Walkley Awards almost every year and receives exceptional recognition at the Logies and other arts awards ceremonies.
There are literally dozens of Australian men and women with the experience and vision to become the next CEO of the ABC. Some candidates would be from the ABC itself, while others could be plucked from the ranks of SBS, Telstra, NBN, Screen Australia, the Australia Council as well as the publishing and IT industries.
So why recruit a corporate lawyer from the Murdoch empire? To sugar this ill-advised appointment, the spin doctors are presenting it as a “first-female-head-of-the-ABC” triumph.

Under Murdoch’s spell

Graduating from Sydney University with a law degree, Ms Guthrie went straight into Sydney’s CBD as a media and technology lawyer with the grasping law firm, Allen, Allen & Hemsley. She was promoted to the firm’s Singapore office at the very time Murdoch was flogging pay TV dishes for his Star network across India and Far East Asia.
Murdoch was so impressed by the young Sydney lawyer’s diligent approach to his legal needs that he recruited her from Allens and transferred her to London where he owned The Sun, the News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times and the UK’s only pay TV network, BSkyB.
In a meteoric rise, she became corporate counsel for News International which, years later, was found guilty of organising phone hacking on an industrial scale for his guttersnipe papers.
Her arrival in London coincided with Murdoch’s promotion of flame-haired Rebekah Brooks who became the first female editor of the News of the World in 2000.
Staff were made aware immediately that “Michelle” and “Rebekah” were Murdoch favourites. They could do no wrong and were beyond criticism. Murdoch relied on their services and paid them both handsomely. (When Brooks left the evil empire in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, Murdoch gave her a $30 million payout. In September he reinstated her as CEO of News UK and this week she attended a Christmas drinks party at Murdoch’s central London apartment. Prime Minister David Cameron was also a guest so it must have been just like old times).

China syndrome

Ms Guthrie toiled for News Corporation companies for 13 years, returning to Australia in the 1990s for an 18-month assignment as director of legal and business development at Foxtel.
Then she moved to Hong Kong to replace James Murdoch as CEO of Star TV. Inside the empire it was seen almost as a “family” appointment. At that time, Hong Kong was at the centre of Murdoch’s attention in more ways than one. He was organising frantically to break into the mainland China market with his Star network and he was also growing increasingly friendly with one of his glamorous and vivacious employees, Wendi Deng.
Murdoch’s China ambitions failed miserably and he spat the dummy, shutting down his expensive lobbying operation. In a huff, he went back to New York with Ms Deng in tow. She became his third wife in 1999.
Ms Guthrie remained in Hong Kong but changed jobs. In 2007 she was appointed managing director of the American private media hedge fund, Providence Equity Partners, but there are no reports of any significant buy-outs or takeovers.
One of Providence’s senior advisers is Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corporation from 1996 to 2009 and now chairman and CEO of The Chernin Group, a media investment outfit.
Since 2011 Ms Guthrie has been domiciled in Singapore as managing director of Google’s operations in the Asia/Pacific region. As an Australian expat domiciled in Singapore, what tax did she pay? Someone should ask.
In recent years Google has been under the spotlight for its use of tax minimisation schemes, particularly in Asia and the UK. This week it was revealed that Google Australia Pty Ltd’s total income this year was $357 million incurring a taxable income of $91 million and tax payable of $9 million. To Google, that’s chickenfeed.
In any case, some reports say that Google pays tax on its Australian operation in Singapore, and then only at the leisurely rate of 0.2%.
When Google Australia was advised earlier this year that it would have to start paying its full share of tax, what was its response? It threatened to move out of Australia and go offshore. (Perhaps to a tax shelter like Singapore?)

“Monetising” the ABC

In her first interviews as the ABC’s managing director-in-waiting, the 50-year-old lawyer stuck to her rehearsed lines but there was one lapse when she conceded: “It is important on an overall basis in budget-constrained times to really look at all options around monetisation…”
“Monetisation” – that word is straight out of Rupert Murdoch’s corporate handbook. He believes in “monetisation” and almost invented the ugly word when he created pay walls for the online content of his raving looney newspapers.
In corporate boardrooms and advertising agencies “monetisation” at the ABC means only one thing – advertising on the national broadcaster. And then onto Stage Two, privatising the ABC. Google might buy it.
Ms Guthrie is the choice of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and ABC board chairman Jim Spigelman who, over the decades, have both worked very profitably for the Murdoch and Packer families.
Weeks ago I predicted a Murdoch appointee to the ABC job and, sadly, that’s how it has worked out. A battle to preserve the independence of public broadcasting, the ABC and SBS, is now certain. Will Bill Shorten’s Labor Party take part? So far, not a peep.

Abbott in lycra

Rhodes Scholar, Catholic seminarian and ousted prime minister Tony Abbott has urged people to acclaim the “clear superiority” of Christian civilisation over Islamic civilisation.
One glaring trouble with this proposition is that he divides the world along sectarian lines and calls them “civilisations” when Christianity isn’t a civilisation, it is a religion.
And secondly, his crude Christianity v. Islam proposition ignores other “civilisations” such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism.
In any case, what is this “superior” Christian civilisation of which he speaks? Abbott himself is a great proponent of the lycra-wearing cycling fraternity. His example was followed by sycophantic Liberal MPs, on-the-make Liberal Party donors and desperately insecure journalists who wished to find favour with the “Mad Monk” when he was on his way up.
The form-fitting lycra, in shades of black and mauve, only made macho-man Abbott look more freaky than he was normally. With his face contorted by breathlessness and self-inflicted pain, Abbott looked on the verge of a coronary every time the TV media dutifully covered his frenzied ride up the polls.
His synthetic elastic garment was so wraparound tight that his testicles were strangled. The sweaty pictures were ghastly and I found myself reaching for the remote to switch channels.
On the other hand, there is something so graceful about Moslem men in swirling, ankle-length dish-dashas with keffiyahs on their heads and Moslem women in colorful hijabs walking along esplanades or through shopping malls pushing prams.
I suspect maxi-strength lyrca appeals to a certain type of seminarian and self-flagellating Tory, but traditional Moslem, Buddhist and Hindu attire seems to be civilisations in front, if you ask me.


  1. Bravo Alex. Any move to ‘monetise’ the ABC would hopefully be met with revolutionary rage from the Australian public. Love your conclusion re the dish-dashas worn by Moslem men. If only I were brave enough, and could get away with it, my pink Anglo-Celtic skin would be far better protected from the cancerous Australian sun. Best wishes for the season, and may your voice of sense and sanity ring ever clearer in the new year, Barry

  2. If Michelle was so well in with Murdoch, why is she not still working for News Corp? They need people like her.
    I’d argue that she got the job (1) because the board could not agree on other candidates, and, more importantly (2) want to use her legal and financial skills to bring about a merger of ABC and SBS which would also involve taking advertising in an overall media shake up.

  3. Michelle Guthrie didn’t do a very good job for Murdoch in China. Do we know the full story of her role that debacle?

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