Media icon Ita Buttrose confirmed as next Chairperson of the ABC

Ita Buttrose
images - ABC

Legend of the Australian media landscape, Ita Buttrose AO OBE has today been named as the new Chair of the ABC

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today confirmed the Government will recommend Ms Buttrose’s appointment to the Governor-General.

The ABC website reports Federal Cabinet met in Sydney on Tuesday and approved the appointment of Ms Buttrose for the next five years.

Confirming the appointment, Buttrose declared she was a life-long fan of the ABC.

"I consider it one of the most important cultural and information organisations in our country and I'm honoured to be asked to lead it into the future," she said.

"It is a voice of the Australian people, I think it reflects our identity, tells our stories, it tells our stories not just here in Australia but to the rest of the world, and I have grown up with the ABC.

"I'm a devoted listener to the ABC. I start my day with ABC News Radio, I don't leave home without it."

The appointment of Buttrose to the role will be controversial. Recruitment company Korn Ferry was commissioned by the government to compile a short list of potential candidates. The committee provided the Communications Minister, Senator Fifield a list of four recommended potential candidates, all of them men.

With the Federal Government approaching an election, an under attack for an under representation of women in leadership roles, the appointment of conservative leaning Buttrose will be perceived by many as a cynical political move.

When questioned today regarding issues of bias at the ABC, Buttrose told journalists:

“Eighty per cent of Australians say we’re unbiased. Eighty per cent of Australians say they trust our news more than any trust any other kind of information. So we must be doing something right,”

“Look, there’s always room for improvement. I’d listen and I want you to know that, you know, I’m sure – It’s not only the ABC that gets complaints from politicians. I have copped plenty of complaints from politicians in previous roles especially when I was editor-in-chief at News Limited.”

Questions will also be asked if Buttrose at the age of 77, is the right person to oversee the organisation as it looks to embrace a digital future.

TV Blackbox understands Buttrose will be paid a minimum of $180,000 per year to perform the role, which includes attending one board meeting per month.

The ABC’s acting leadership team last night endorsed the former Australian of the Year.

David Anderson, the ABC acting managing director, said Ms Buttrose was an “eminent Australian with vast experience as an editor and media executive”.

“Her leadership of the ABC, a highly valued and trusted cultural institution, is welcomed,” he said.

Kirstin Ferguson, the ABC acting chair added;

“Ita Buttrose is one of the greats of Australian media — and an iconic, widely admired Australian,” .

“She will bring valuable experience to the ABC board and I look forward to working with her.”

The appointment comes after the sacking of Managing Director Michelle Guthrie and the resignation of Chair Justin Milne, five months ago and will see Buttrose take office before the next federal election.

The ABC Alumni group urged the government to hold off on an appointment until after the Senate Inquiry into ‘allegations of political interference’ delivers its report in a few months’ time.

Ita Buttrose will become the second woman to be Chair of the ABC, after Dame Leonie Kramer in the 1980s. The 77-year-old Australian media legend was the founding editor of Cleo Magazine in 1972, and later the editor of The Australian Women's Weekly. Her career was profiled in a 2011 ABC mini Series called Paper Giants.

Commenting on the departures of previous Chair, Justin Milne and Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie from the ABC last year, Ita Buttrose told The Drum:

"If I look at the board, and I look at Michelle Guthrie's CV, I don't see anybody there with a lot of media experience, and I think that is a failing of the board — they're very well-credentialed, don't get me wrong... 

"When you come into an organisation like the ABC, which is very set in its ways, with some very high-profile and high-ego-driven people who have a very set point of view on what they want to do, they don't like change, so anybody who comes to the organisation like the ABC and has to make change is going to get a very rough ride.

"All media organisations have their cultures, and you either fit into it or you don't fit into it … and if you don't fit the troops, as we like to call them, make it very tough on the incumbent."