High-profile ABC journalist Laura Tingle has rebuffed her union-backed colleagues to campaign for a position on the public broadcaster’s board in an attempt to provide staff with a more independent voice.
ABC’s 7:30 chief political correspondent has nominated herself for a staff-elected seat on the board, but has not requested an endorsement from the media union like other candidates. The process coincides with the Albanese government deciding to replace Turnbull board appointee Joseph Gersh from the board once his first term expires.
Journalist and author Laura Tingle will run for the ABC board.Credit:James Brickwood
“The job of the board is to scrutinise decisions management are taking which affect both the corporation as a whole but also, obviously, the staff,” Tingle told this masthead.
“The staff-elected director brings the experience and perspective of staff to that scrutiny. It’s about a lot more than pay and conditions. The recent cuts to ABC archives is a classic case in point which has profound implications for the way we do our job, and for the ABC’s obligations to preserve our national memory.”
The staff-elected board role, currently held by radio producer Jane Connors, is typically backed by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. Tingle, who was previously The Australian Financial Review’s political editor and is a union member, said she felt she could not be independent if she was backed by the union.
“There are clear obligations for directors of any board to be independent and while I would obviously listen to all staff concerns, I feel it would be detrimental to simply be perceived as representing the interests of one sector of our workforce,” Tingle said in a note to 7:30 staff last week. Voting for who will represent staff on the board is on February 10.
However, her decision has upset the union, which argues she is running against due process.
The union ballot for staff-elected board candidates includes business reporters Dan Ziffer and Peter Ryan, Four Corners reporters Paul Farrell and Stephen Long and ABC news presenter Dan Bourchier. All except Bourchier have committed to endorsing whoever wins the union-backed election. The ABC’s other major union, the Community and Public Sector Union, is not expected to put up a candidate.
The staff-elected process coincides with a decision by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland to replace Gersh, the executive chairman of Gersh Investment Partners and director of the Sydney Institute, who was appointed to the board by the Turnbull government in 2018. His term expires in May. Gersh was approached for comment.
“The Minister wrote to Mr Joseph Gersh AM late last year to thank him for his service to the ABC during his time on the Board,” a spokesperson for Rowland said.
“The Minister advised him that she has asked the Chair of the Nomination Panel for ABC and SBS Board appointments to conduct a selection process to fill this vacancy when it arises. That selection process is expected to occur in the first half of 2023.”
Gersh was appointed to the board at a time when the federal government was at fierce loggerheads with the ABC.
Joseph Gersh: To be replacedCredit:Peter Rae
Non-executive directors for the ABC board are required to have experience with media, business and financial management, corporate governance, or cultural policy and need to have a geographic spread across the states and territories.
The rules say there can be no fewer than four, and no more than six, in addition to the managing director, chairperson and staff-elected director. The board meets six times a year, with remuneration of $58,670 a year for non-executive directors.
To be chosen for the board, candidates go through a merit-based selection process, which includes a panel of four members. The process includes written applications, interviews, referee and probity checks. A shortlist of three or more candidates is then presented to the minister.
The government has separately concluded a review into whether an ABC board director needs to step down from the position.
Fiona Balfour, a former chief information officer at Qantas and Telstra, was facing calls to resign over a potential conflict of interest that is linked to her recent appointment on the board of Telstra subsidiary, Digicel.
The government reported its advice to the ABC, which declined to comment on its next steps.
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