“Get on the road,” was the advice former ABC MD Mark Scott gave Michelle Guthrie when she took on the role just over six months ago.
Since then she has travelled to many of the organisation’s 48 regional offices and aims to continue this voyage throughout her initial five-year term.
“After reading a lot of criticisms about the ABC, the cuts and the other things going on, I was really expecting the staff to be much more pinned down. That couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Guthrie said.
One of the biggest changes that she is attempting to bring about at the ABC is to connect its digital offerings.
“One of the things that struck me when I joined is that our digital services are very siloed,” she said. “We have an incredible number of downloads for our podcasts, particular on the Radio National service. However, that isn’t connected to our radio streaming sites, that’s not connected to iview and that’s not connected to our digital news sites.
“When you think about the breadth and depth of what we have, we can connect it all together so that when you listen to a great Dr Karl podcast on triple j, then we suggest to you that you might like this Brian Cox documentary that’s available on iview.”
This, Guthrie said, is a massive opportunity to reach more Australians. The work to rectify the plumbing issues in its digital offering has begun, but it will take time.
Guthrie also used her appearance at Screen Forever to clarify questions the network has faced about its co-production deal with Netflix for the second season of Glitch.
“Do you want Glitch in Australia?” she said, laughing. “That’s quid pro quo, right? High quality dramas are expensive and getting more so. What we are trying to figure out is the ways in which we can partner to make sure that that programming is continuously made.
“It’s the way of the future.”
This month the ABC also attracted headlines following Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s appearance on 7.30 presented by Leigh Sales. Turnbull labelled the organisation as “elite media” out of touch with the larger population.
“I totally reject that,” Guthrie said. “We were reporting what a number of government MPs had raised in relation to section 18C [of the Racial Discrimination Act].
“There are 50 live microphones on right now on the ABC. That is across Australia in every capital city, with local radio journalists and presenters who are dealing with bread and butter issues in particular communities. Viewing us through the lens of two programs that the politicians seem to obsess about is not the depth and breadth of what we do.”