P. P. McGuinness, The Australian, May 23, 2006, p. 12.

If Mark Scott failed to bring balance to Fairfax newspapers, do not expect him to reform the public broadcaster, argues P. P. McGuinness.

The more intelligent denizens of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be celebrating the appointment of their new managing director, Mark Scott, hitherto editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age.

For once again the colourless managerialists, in the mould of ABC chairman Donald McDonald, have successfully repelled the forces of the would-be radical reformers who believe the ABC is a nest of left-wing journalistic vipers.

Scott is one of those who, in the old phrase, have risen without trace. And he is a guarantee of one thing. While he is at the helm, the ABC will not change its editorial culture. In fact, he is very much like a younger and taller clone of McDonald, who throughout his tenure — coextensive with that of the Howard Government — has played a purely emollient role in that organisation, carefully avoiding change and deflecting the continual assaults from those who find the ABC culture narrow and heavily biased.

Although many of these assaults have come from members of his Government and from a strong element in his supporters, Prime Minister John Howard has resolutely supported McDonald. And although he has allowed the occasional so-called conservative appointment to the ABC board, he has blandly resisted any policy initiatives that may interfere with the status quo.

Scott will not be idle. He is an able exponent of management change and of organisational change. The already quite extensive activity of the ABC in the rapid technical development of broadcasting and of related areas will continue. No doubt he will, as a believer in organisational growth, support the imperialistic drive that has taken the ABC into areas far beyond its original brief and often beyond the limits of its legislative charter.

It will not be long before, as happened previously with the radio frequency that carries Radio National, the broadcasting of parliament will be driven off the so-called News Radio frequency. (The only answer to this would be a separate and genuinely public broadcasting service, both radio and television, free of sports and dedicated solely to the broadcasting of proceedings of both houses of parliament and its committee hearings and related activities.) ABC TV will continue to invent a need for yet more channels. The ABC octopus will grow and grow.

While ostensibly a journalist, Scott has little journalistic experience. He was appointed education editor of the SMH in 1994 with no prior journalistic experience. Probably this had something to do with his background as a schoolteacher and his father’s influence: Brian Scott had conducted or was in the process of conducting several official inquiries into the workings of the education system (with no visible result).

Mark Scott had acquired one of Harvard’s meaningless degrees in management, not a master of business administration (like the unfortunate young Warwick Fairfax) but a master of public administration; his only experience in public administration was a stint in the office of the (also unfortunate) Terry Metherell when he was the Liberal minister for education in NSW. But management degrees of any kind were popular during Fred Hilmer’s period as chief executive of Fairfax.

Hilmer, an MBA (Wharton School of Finance) and a product of the McKinsey school of management flim-flam, moved on to become vice-chancellor of the University of NSW after a not very impressive stint as head of the now-struggling Australian Graduate School of Management at that university in the 1990s.

So, although Scott had no real journalistic runs on the board as a reporter, analyst or commentator, he rose rapidly to the top of the journalistic tree. He could, after all, be said to be almost a hereditary management expert. His grandfather, Walter Dill Scott (later Sir Walter), was the founder of one of the first and most respected indigenous management firms. His father, Brian, AO, MBA and DBA, took over the family firm and later became a director of many companies and other organisations (including at one time the AGSM).

By then the family had joined the grandees of the Sydney north shore Liberal establishment, like the Longstaffs and the Bairds, most of them Anglicans (though definitely not of the Jensen persuasion) whose religious base in the CBD is St James’s Church in King Street: all deeply conservative but of the accommodating progressivist kind.

So the ABC remains in safe hands. There is no revolutionary, no ideologue, no hot-eyed burning reformer to disturb its ageing and placid dissemination of the small-l liberal platitudes of the past 30 years.

The feminists, the gay-rights advocates, the ecunemical searches for the meaning of life, the anti-Catholics, the advocates of Papuan independence, the supporters of Fidel Castro and similar Third World dictators and murderers, the America haters can rest secure. So can the Howard haters, long protected by McDonald at the ABC.

After all, Scott has protected for years that rabid, elderly hater of Howard, Alan Ramsey at the SMH, as he declines in perpetual hymns of Keatingesque hate (only the other day he called Howard a toad). He has allowed The Age to dispose of any semblance of balance, not even pretending to occasional balance on the opinion page (but, like the SMH, never in the news or letters pages).

Why the tolerance of the Howard haters? Why does McDonald, one of the PM’s closest friends, not get upset by this? Simply because he knows, as Joh Bjelke-Petersen knew in his day, that every hyperbolic outpouring of hate and prejudice by the ABC is votes in the ballot box for the Coalition side.

Nor is there anybody likely to wield the axe or the chainsaw in the ABC. Unless, of course, the board decides otherwise. In which case anybody over 50 at the ABC will have reason to be grateful for Peter Costello’s changes to the superannuation system. For that is what mindless management experts do.

[Click here for more by Paddy McGuinness on the ABC and other issues.]

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Where Friedman is a pinko
  2. The Economic Guerrillas: A lecture in honour of Maxwell Newton
  3. The Libertarian Alternative
  4. Libel laws block insider's revelations of Australia's industrial mess
  5. But perhaps the merchants of doom have a point
  6. The Origins of Paddy McGuinness
  7. The Itch for Influence
  8. LA safe from religious poverty
  9. Aunty should hang up her boots in face of premature senility
  10. Warning: health is a budget hazard
  11. New ABC Tory chief won't rock the boat
  12. Time to sell the ABC
  13. Youth victims of the welfare con
  14. Paddy McGuinness on class sizes (1991)
  15. More teachers won't solve the problems in our schools
  16. Paddy McGuinness on Catholics and wealth distribution
  17. Paddy McGuinness proposes inheritance tax equal to handouts received by deceased
  18. Let them swim nude
  19. Time to legalise heroin
  20. State-sponsored sports rorts
  21. The blight of the baby-boomers
  22. To reduce the problems of crime and corruption, legalise heroin
  23. We should ban Olympics
  24. Evidence shows heroin policy is not working
  25. Wowsers deny society while killing children
  26. Will Australia compete?
  27. Canberra's social revolution
  28. Paddy McGuinness in 1994 on the 2012 class size debate
  29. Why not pay for the ABC?
  30. Paddy McGuinness on David Stove
  31. Sometimes the truth hurts
  32. Paddy McGuinness on compulsory, informal and donkey voting, and breaking electoral laws
  33. Thomas Sowell, McGuinness, Aborigines and other minorities
  34. Genocide with kindness
  35. Hyde, McGuinness and Sturgess on Chaining/Changing Australia
  36. Paddy McGuinness defends comparing IQ of races
  37. Do-gooders should glorify smokers
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