Ex-director calls for more conservatives on ABC board
Joseph Gersh speaks out after five-year tenure
One of the directors exiting the ABC’s board has called for more conservatives to appear on its airwaves, but shot back at the relentless criticism of the organisation from right-wing culture warriors.
Joseph Gersh spoke to The Australian Financial Review to mark the end of his five-year tenure on the ABC board. The Melbourne businessman, who describes himself as “centre right” politically, was appointed to the board by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2018.
“The ABC would benefit from more conservative voices, there is no doubt about that,” Mr Gersh said. “But I do not believe in the cancel culture from those who want to defund the ABC or privatise the ABC.”
ABC hit by criticism ahead of vacancies opening up
His comments come as the ABC continues to be hit with criticism over how its journalists cover contentious political issues ahead of this year’s the Voice referendum, and as a series of vacancies open up on the ABC board.
Mr Gersh will leave the board in May, while former Qantas executive Fiona Balfour has resigned after over a conflict-of-interest stoush with ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose.
The Labor government will have the chance to nominate two new directors to the organisation’s board. The positions traditionally go to party or ideological allies. ABC employees are also in the process of voting for a staff-elected director.
Gersh comments on his tenure
Mr Gersh joined the ABC board in 2018 and was immediately thrust into the scandal surrounding the sacking of then-ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie. Mr Gersh appeared on the subsequent Four Corners investigation into in-fighting at the ABC.
He said the current leadership has stabilised the organisation after the period he dubs a “steep learning curve”.
ABC’s move to Parramatta
A board member of the conservative Sydney Institute, Mr Gersh praised the ABC’s decision to relocate large parts of the organisation’s operations to Parramatta, which had helped reduce bias among staff.
“This is a natural bias if you’re sitting in Ultimo and looking at the world from the perspective of those who are derisively called the latte-sipping, chardonnay-drinking elite,” he said.
“Several steps have been taken in the medium to long term which make sure that the ABC tacks further to the centre. For example, the move to Parramatta of a considerable portion of the news.”
Calls for more centrist voices, diversity and commercial success
Mr Gersh also lamented how voices on the “centre right” had been drowned out in public debate, citing the ugly scenes earlier this month when neo-Nazis attended an anti-LGBTQ rally outside the Victorian parliament in Melbourne.
“There are also those on the right who refuse to appear on the ABC, who won’t participate,” he said. “That is a terrible mistake.”
While the federal government has been critical of its predecessors for perceived jobs-for-the-boys favours, it is unclear whether Communications Minister Michelle Rowland will nominate allies to the two vacant board seats.
Mr Gersh declined to comment on whether he was concerned about the ideological make-up of the board, but lavished praise on the current chairwoman.
He also said the public broadcaster had more work to do when it came to the organisation’s commercial activities. The ABC has been outgunned on commercial deals by competing organisations including the BBC, which snagged the full rights to kids TV sensation Bluey.
“Could the ABC improve in the area? I think so,” he said. “For various reasons in the past the ABC has wound back its commercial activities. But I think the realisation is upon it that there is more to take advantage of.”