IT’S the biggest story of the day, and ABC host Leigh Sales wanted to be in the middle of it.
But she was left wanting.
Sales, the best interviewer on the national broadcaster’s long list of talented interviewers, had planned to grill the big players about the sacking of ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie — a story that shocked and divided her colleagues.
“As is always the case on a big story, @abc730 has tried to land the key players tonight for interviews — in the case of the ABC today, Chairman Justin Milne and former MD Michelle Guthrie,” Sales wrote on Twitter. “Neither is available.”
Comedian Tony Martin joked: “Have you checked the entire building? They may have been relocated due to hot desking.”
But the story is no laughing matter. Ms Guthrie, on a salary nearing $900k a year, was given her marching orders by management on Monday.
ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie was reportedly blindsided.
Staff at the ABC were notified by email before the broadcaster released a statement outlining the personnel change but failing to explain the reasons behind it.
“The decision follows discussions over several months that concluded when directors resolved that it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation,” the statement said.
“In resolving to seek fresh leadership, the Board’s foremost consideration was the long-term interests of our own people and the millions of Australians who engage with ABC content every week.”Sales didn’t hold back when introducing 730’s coverage of the story on Monday night, issuing a statement of her own.
“The current trend in Australia for suddenly removing leaders with little explanation today has hit the ABC,” she said.
“The board has suddenly sacked the corporation’s first and only female managing director Michelle Guthrie ... the board has given no reasons, other than a desire for leadership change.”
She told viewers again that neither Ms Guthrie or Mr Milne had any interest in appearing on the program.
Ms Guthrie made her feelings known just before midday with a statement of her own. She said she was “devastated by the Board’s decision to terminate my employment despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part”.
ABC chairman Justin Milne: unavailable for 730.
The former managing director who was just halfway through her five-year contract with the ABC, said she was considering taking legal action.
“My term concludes on 4 July, 2021,” she said. “While my contract permits the Board to terminate my appointment without cause and with immediate effect, I believe there is no justification for the Board to trigger that termination clause. I am considering my legal options.
“At no point have any issues been raised with me about the transformation being undertaken, the investing in audiences strategy and my effectiveness in delivering that strategy.”
The decision split ABC staff who expressed surprise, disappointment and relief.
“Excellent decision,” Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour wrote on Twitter.
ABC Radio presenter Jon Faine said Ms Guthrie had been given the “benefit of the doubt” when she was hired to the ABC board but turned out to be an “astonishing fail”.
He lamented the fact that she was “only interested in a very small part of what the organisation did”.
“She’s been all but invisible, I might say, for a very long time.”
Ms Guthrie’s sacking was reportedly decided at a board meeting on Sunday night, leaving staff at the network, including presenters, to chase the story like everybody else.
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