The Guardian November 7, 2001


Shier gets the axe

by Peter Mac

Last week ABC staff celebrated at news of the imminent departure of 
Managing Director Jonathan Shier, who offered his resignation after 
discussions with the ABC Board concerning his highly destructive rule.

Shier's management resulted in the resignation or sacking of many of the 
ABCs most talented staff, disbandment of unique institutions such as the 
Science Unit, the axing of outstanding programs such as "Quantum" and 
"Media Watch", the weakening of its traditional role in fostering talent, 
the attempted introduction of crass commercial programs and a catastrophic 
drop in staff morale.

Shier and the Howard Government underestimated resistance to their 
initiatives from ABC staff and from the public. Many Board members, 
including Chairman Don Macdonald and former Liberal MP Andrew Kroger, 
initially backed Shier's appointment strongly. However, support for him 
weakened because of nationwide public protests and industrial action by 
staff. 

Shier undermined his own position with a series of outrageous public 
speeches which demonstrated his almost total ignorance of the role and 
responsibilities of a national broadcaster, and his gross rudeness to 
staff, particularly women. Kroger was virtually the only Board member to 
defend Shier when news of his departure became public.

Shier caused serious losses in the ABC's historically unique archives and 
library services, and he gained public notoriety for his gross interference 
in the ABC's news and current affairs division.

His attempted muzzling of a Four Corners program detrimental to 
leading Liberal Party members even shocked many conservatives, who had 
until then had seen his disastrous management style as the price of 
necessary change.

It is rumoured that termination of Shier's appointment alone will cost the 
taxpayer approximately $1 million.

However, responsibility for the damage wrought by Shier's actions belongs 
to the Howard Government, which made savage cuts to the ABC's budget both 
before and during his appointment.

His appointment was an outcome of their commitment to turning the ABC into 
a pallid imitation of the commercial broadcasters, or (preferably) 
replacing it in whole or in part by commercial services.

Shier, who had spent 23 years selling commercial airtime in Europe and was 
devoted to the promotion of commercial broadcasting, was simply seen by 
them as the best person to do this.

His management initiatives and abrasive style resulted in the resignation 
or sacking of some of the organisation's best talent, and the introduction 
at vast expense of a bloated and fawning middle management layer, some of 
whose members were apparently approached by him to accept managerial 
positions before he himself was appointed.

The key question now is who will succeed Shier and what new management 
policies will be adopted. Shier does not leave until the end of next month, 
and the Board has not yet sought a replacement.

The Greens, the Democrats and the ALP have all promised to restore ABC 
funding if elected on Saturday. 

The organisation "Friends of the ABC" said that "the ABC needs a managing 
director who can heal the wounds and help to restore the courage and 
independence of the ABC.

"Clearly, any new appointee must be free of political taint, and have the 
skills and understanding to manage a national public broadcaster."

The group also stressed the crucial importance of "protect(ing) the ABC in 
times of governments with less than honourable intentions  governments 
which seek to misuse the public broadcaster for their own political ends."

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