ABC Friends News

All aboard for troubled waters

Three new appointments to the ABC board have been met with some sighs of relief within the broadcaster, even though they are linked to the government, News Limited, or Kerry Stokes’ media empire — three organisations hostile to the public broadcaster. 

Some ABC insiders were quoted as saying things were “not as bad as was expected.”

The positions were made available after the resignation of Vanessa Guthrie in March, and the departure of Kirsten Ferguson and Donny Walford last year.

Fiona Balfour, Mario D’Orazio and Peter Tonagh have all been appointed for five-year terms.

According to respected journalism academic Margaret Simons, Fiona Balfour, who is a friend of Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, was the minister’s “captain’s pick,” and will act as the government’s eyes and ears on the board, with the other two appointments based on merit.

In an article on the subject, Margaret Simons said:

The fear was that the government would appoint ideologues with a brief to punish the organisation. Instead, two out of the three newcomers — former News Corp executive Peter Tonagh and former Channel 7 Perth managing director Mario D’Orazio — are unquestionably creditable appointments.

The question mark is over the third, IT specialist and serial board director Fiona Balfour. She is the “captain’s pick” of communications minister Paul Fletcher, and is said to be his long-term friend and ally.

READ MARGARET SIMONS’ FULL ASSESSMENT 

Fiona Balfour completed a bachelor of arts degree in English and history at Monash University in 1979. Initially working in the state and federal public service, she later worked in management consulting and completed a Graduate Diploma in Information Management from UNSW and an MBA at RMIT. Ms. Balfour subsequently joined Qantas where she rose to Chief Information Officer and became a member of the Qantas Executive Committee. In 2006 she was briefly appointed Chief Information Officer at Telstra. Since then she has held a number of non-executive board positions. 

COVERAGE OF THE APPOINTMENTS FROM MUMBRELLA 

Mario D’Orazio was appointed to the Australia Post Board in March 2019 and has extensive executive and board experience in the corporate, philanthropic, and not-for-profit sectors. He is currently Chairman of the Australian Institute of Management WA Council, Chairman of the Perth Public Art Foundation, Board Member of the WA Academy of Performing Arts and the Australia Council for the Arts, and Trustee of the Channel 7 Telethon Trust. Mr. D’Orazio brings extensive experience as a senior executive in Australian media to this role, developed over a 30-year career with Channel 7 Perth, including eight years as Managing Director. 

Peter Tonagh has an extensive background as a senior executive in Australian media companies, working for News Corporation entities for nearly fourteen years in senior executive roles across each of the key Australian businesses, including as Chief Executive Officer of Foxtel, REA, and News Corp Australia. Mr. Tonagh was most recently involved in the effort to save Australian Associated Press, which received $15 million in funding, and was co-leader of the government’s efficiency review into the ABC and SBS in 2018.

READ AN ABC REPORT ABOUT THE APPOINTMENTS