Ita Buttrose: “I’ve never caved in.”

In her final week as ABC Chair, Ita Buttrose has given two media interviews.

Ita Buttrose concludes her final week as ABC Chair this week.

She has recently granted two interviews, one to SMH’s Peter FitzSimons and another to Sarrah Le Marquand at News Corp’s Stellar.

Here are several excerpts from SMH:

Fitz: How did the whole ABC job come up?

Ita: It was at the Australian of the Year Awards in 2019. And after the ceremony, a guy came up to me when I was with my son and my daughter-in-law and said, “are you Ita Buttrose?”

“Yes, I am.”

“The prime minister wants to see you.”

So I put down my wine and said, “Right, lead on.”

And he took me to a room where Scott Morrison was, alone. And I’m thinking, “Have I done something wrong?” And we were having a chit-chat and the PM said, “I’d like to offer you the chair of the ABC”. I just looked at him because I, you know, hadn’t gone to the awards expecting to get a job offer. And I said, “prime minister, you’ve taken my breath away.”

“No need to decide now. What’s your mobile?” And before you could say “Bob’s your uncle,” he’d sent me his mobile number. But I knew at once I’d take it. I just thought, “it all makes sense, my entire career makes sense. I can see that all the things I’ve done have equipped me to be the chair of the ABC.”

Fitz: The ABC also faced a motion of no confidence by more than 100 ABC staff, through the MEAA, including senior journalist John Lyons, alleging that the ABC had shown pro-Israel bias and was failing to protect its staff. In your defence of the managing director David Anderson, you said criticism of Anderson was “abhorrent and incorrect”.

Ita: It was. The board and I have expressed our full confidence in David. We know that he has staff safety top of his mind and, as editor-in-chief, has stressed that our coverage of the Israeli-Hamas conflict be impartial. That has been supported by the most recent report from the ABC ombudsman.

Fitz: Your watch has also seen endless accusations that the ABC has lost its way, that it is biased, that it is still too far left, or has gone too far right. How much of your energy has gone towards trying to steer towards left/right balance, or have you simply focused on journalistic independence and let the rest look after itself?

Ita: It has always been to focus on the truth, and that’s the principle we apply to everything now, and it’s my role as chair to highlight that responsibility and the need to deliver news impartially. I remind journalists, especially younger journalists, “If you want to report the news, you have to leave bias at the door. You have to report the facts. Only the facts, no opinions”.

Fitz: But you must have read or seen, I’m guessing, 500 articles in your time saying the ABC is biased?

Ita: I reckon every chair since 1932 has had to face allegations of bias. But it’s still the most trusted media organisation in Australia.

Excerpts from Stellar:

Is there anything you wish to say in response to accusations levelled by some – including from ABC staff – that this incident has shown that the national broadcaster can be influenced by powerful lobby groups, and its independence can be undermined?

Ita: The role of independence of the national broadcaster is paramount to what we do. It’s enshrined in legislation. The ABC and I have never been influenced by outside lobbyists, people passionate about their particular cause as politicians, commercial interests, you name it. The ABC has never caved in. I’ve never caved in. Neither has the managing director nor the board.

On a lighter note, in Leigh Sales’ Andrew Olle Media Lecture last year, she told a great anecdote about how she once parked in your car spot at the ABC and she returned to find a beautifully written note under her windscreen wiper, reading “Please DON’T” – in capital letters and double underlined – “park in my car spot again”. Stapled to it was a business card that read Ita Buttrose AC OBE. Did you have cause to leave many notes like that?

Ita: No, I didn’t. Because the car park was full, she parked in my spot. So there was nowhere for me to park, was there? Was I angry? Yes, I was. I left a note.

And where did you park?

Ita: I parked her in, actually, and then I left before her. I don’t think I told her I parked her in.

As a female chair, you’re still in a minority in this country. And you’ve encouraged more women to put themselves forward, but you’ve also noted the male network is very strong. Is the boys’ club as strong as it once was? Do you still encounter it yourself at this point in your career?

Ita: No. I don’t encounter it, but I think I observe it. It’s certainly still there. It’s not as strong as it used to be, but it’s fair to say some women are discriminated against because of their age, their nationality, their skin colour. I think that bias still exists. Just have a look at the board make-up; you can see for yourself. Mind you, men suffer the same. We’re not a great embracer of diversity in the boardroom, I don’t think.

Are there things you still want to achieve?

Ita: I feel somewhere deep inside of me that there’s something else waiting for me. I don’t know what it is. Whether it’s going to be as big as chairing an organisation like the ABC … I think that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’m honoured to have had the chance. But I think there’s something. I’ll let you know when I find it.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Stellar

One Response

  1. Ita won’t be missed. Under her watch the ABC has lost its confidence, it’s distinctiveness and as promoted the wrong people – like Justin Stevens as head of news. Morrison knew exactly what he was doing.

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