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Former ABC Managing Director discusses current management and $21 million funding cuts.

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Tuesday 5 August 2003

Former ABC Managing Director discusses current management and $21 million funding cuts


LINDA MOTTRAM: The man who used to run the ABC claims that if he was still in charge the organisation would not be in the mess, as he sees it, that it's in now. 


Jonathan Shier is the former Liberal Party staffer who was removed from the ABC's top job following a mutiny by his own handpicked senior executive team two years into his five-year term. But he did succeed in persuading the Federal Government to grant the organisation a modest budget increase.  


Today he says the national broadcaster is being run by a "pedestrian" board of directors and management team. 


Nick Grimm spoke to Jonathan Shier.  


JONATHAN SHIER: I think the failure to win arguments is coming home to roost. It isn't sufficient to simply say the argument wasn't won, therefore we're going to have cuts and isn't it a pity. And of course some people might ask where we'd be if it wasn't for the extra funding that we won in 2001. 


NICK GRIMM: Funding that you've been credited for winning? 


JONATHAN SHIER: Some people have been kind enough to do that, yes. 


NICK GRIMM: So where do you level the blame for these cuts to the ABC? Is it at the feet of the Board of the institution? 


JONATHAN SHIER: The fact is that this Board has failed to win extra funding from the Government, even for things that the Government so openly supports, like digital television. You know, the reality is that should this Chairman be Chairman for some 10 years? I mean there may be one year when he got extra funding for the Corporation. 


NICK GRIMM: You're referring there to the Chairman of the ABC, Donald McDonald? 


JONATHAN SHIER: Well all I'm saying is, I mean he, in his first term in office, the extra funding was not forthcoming. There was extra funding in my year as managing director. I can't speak obviously for the rest of his term in office, but clearly at the moment winning funding from the Government is not proving to be something that is forthcoming. 


NICK GRIMM: How would you characterise the way the ABC is being managed at present? 


JONATHAN SHIER: Quietly and in a pedestrian way. 


NICK GRIMM: Could it be said though that the ABC now is suffering the results of the effort that was put in place to change the culture of the ABC when you were managing director? For example, that $37-million in redundancy payouts, which the ABC is still trying to pay, I mean most of those positions were refilled by new personnel. 


JONATHAN SHIER: Well I think, as I indicated, you know, the current Managing Director was an integral part of that decision, and he agreed with that decision and in fact put it in place, and I think that that's a burden that's been removed from this management, removed from this Board, and they're extremely lucky.  


So they don't have the burden of those extra salaries in the future. They did have extra funding. It now looks like the extra funding has now been used up to cover the costs that will not be supported by additional funding now. 


NICK GRIMM: In hindsight, was it a mistake to pursue ventures like digital broadcasting, given the fact that the cost of mounting those adventures in a new medium have been cut from other areas of the ABC budget? 


JONATHAN SHIER: Well, you know, I mean obviously my answer's not going to, you know, not going to satisfy many. 


I mean, I obviously would argue that if I was still managing director, we would have won the argument to support those ventures, we would have won the argument to maintain them and to win extra funding, and that we would have moved forward as a vital broadcasting institution in a digital age.  


I mean, after all, I was appointed for a five-year term, and as you know only served for two. So, if one had been able to convince whoever that one needed the extra money over the next three years, I think you would have found at the end of that five-year term a far more vital and vibrant ABC. 


NICK GRIMM: So if you were still managing director, the ABC would not be in this predicament? 


JONATHAN SHIER: I would like to think so and I'm sorry that that is the position today, and I suspect by calling me you recognise it might have been a possibility. 


LINDA MOTTRAM: The former managing director of the ABC, Jonathan Shier, speaking to our reporter Nick Grimm. And we did ask the current Managing Director, Russel Balding, or the Chairman, Donald McDonald to speak to AM . We were told there'd be no comment this morning.