Almost two years ago now the ABC was rife with rumours that the unpopular Director of Radio, Sue Howard, was not finding favour with newish Managing Director Mark Scott, and would soon be for the high jump. The Australian’s Media section even published this rumour as fact.
It wasn’t true, as I reported in Crikey on the same day.
I was told at the time that while Scott might have had some reservations about Howard, she had his support and was very much part of his plans for the future.
Sometimes all that is needed for a rumour to become true is the passage of time. And now I gather it IS true. Sue Howard is going.
My colleague Glenn Dyer broke the story as rumour in today’s Crikey e-mail. I can now confirm that her departure is not just rumour.
My sources say that Howard was told a fortnight ago that she was out.
Why, I am still trying to find out. Howard has been unpopular with some of her key staff for a while now. Radio National types believe she is out to get them, and her denials have cut no ice.
The back story to this is the feeling among those who pump out the popular local radio programs that Radio National types are too passive, and fill too many of their program hours with broadcasts of conferences and festivals and the like – material that can now be obtained elsewhere. “It’s hardly value adding,” one local radio source says.
Radio National, on the other hand, regards its unique in-depth and specialist programming as at the heart of the National Broadcaster’s charter responsibilities. RN’s supporters query why taxpayer’s money should be spent on light weight local radio drive time and talk back, when similar material is available on commercial stations.
Howard’s background was with local radio, and she was seen, rightly or wrongly, as backing that particular horse.
My impression. for what it is worth, has been that Howard was not hostile to Radio National as such, but was more than frustrated with some particular individuals and with aspects of the culture. As for the criticism that local ABC Radio sounded too much like its commercial counterparts, she responded to that in an interview with the Radio National Media Report (ironically, one of the programs recently cut) here.
But all this is old news, part of the constant factional brawling that is the ABC at its weakest, and I doubt if it is the reason for her departure now.
So why is she going?
Some say that local radio’s slowness to take up the opportunities of new media is part of the picture. Others that the mishandling of the PR – and the substance – over the recent cuts to Radio National programs was the last straw.
There were claims made that Scott was not consulted about the Radio National cuts though these answers to questions before Senate Estimates earlier this month would seem to rebut the claim.
Senator Ludlam asked:
Was the Managing Director consulted before this decision was taken?
Was the ABC Board consulted before this decision was taken?
No. Programming decisions are a management responsibility.
What I am hearing – but cannot yet confirm as truth – is that Howard’s departure is not only about her, but part of broader moves to restructure management. I am told that Scott may not be in a hurry to appoint Howard’s replacement, but could instead engage in a strategic rethink and restructure, with the radio executive reporting directly to him in the meantime.
Some think this restructure is overdue, particularly when radio is no longer only radio, but also podcasting, local web pages and so on and so forth.
I’ll try to find out more of the back story to Howard’s departure in time for tomorrow’s Crikey e-mail.
Watch this space.