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The ABC Boss Departs Although Staff Are Pretty Miserable

BuzzFeed News spoke to Mark Scott about his budget cuts, staff anxiety, and what’s next for him and Aunty.

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Mark Di Stefano/BuzzFeed

He's the public face of Q&A scandals and grovelling public apologies involving alleged dog-fucking. He's even defended Peppa Pig from accusations she was promoting a communist agenda. But today Mark Scott, 53, sits at his desk overlooking Sydney's CBD, sending his final email to the ABC's 4,300 staff.

The outgoing managing director is surrounded by boxes, packed full of political biographies and ABC-published coffee table books, getting ready to leave the building.

Scott walks out the door with an impressive legacy, chief among them the network's transition to online, and the ridiculous success of its streaming service, ABC iView. However, handed to his successor, former Google executive Michelle Guthrie, is an overflowing inbox of impending hard decisions involving funding gaps and job cuts.

There's also sinking staff morale.

BuzzFeed News spoke to several ABC staff who are fearful they'll feel the heat in the next round of deep job cuts, expected within months.

One person described Guthrie as like the cartoonish grim reaper Death, hired to make the cuts Scott has been avoiding in his final year.

Paul Wright / PR IMAGE

Scott admits that Tuesday's federal budget will be a tough one for Aunty, with funding "up in the air".

Back in 2013, the ABC was granted a special gift by the Gillard government, with $20 million per annum in extra funding over three years. The cash injection was spent on new mini newsrooms in regional areas like Geelong, Ipswich, and Parramatta, a "fact-checking unit", and an extra layer of reporters called the "national reporting team".

As the three-year grant runs out, all those projects will either be junked or new "savings" will be need to be made to keep them.

"There's been no communication," one journalist from a regional newsroom told BuzzFeed News. "We don't know what's happening when the money runs out on June 30. Will I have a job? I don't know."

Another ABC employee said the uncertainty was taking a serious personal toll on staff: "People are deeply overworked and unhappy."

But the outgoing ABC boss said this was to be expected in the current media environment. "We've done significant research on that," Scott said, "and staff engagement here is the same as at other media organisations. It is a tough time to be in the media.

"If you look here over the last year, we've had $250 million in funding cuts that have landed from the federal government."

Dean Nye/BuzzFeed

What does all this mean for "Your ABC?" Fewer exclusives, more news packages purchased from overseas. Fewer news bulletins, more talking-panel shows. Less rural, more national. Less Aussie TV, more reruns of QI.

Asked for his biggest failures while in charge, Scott says he employed "too many Anglos" and launched "too many websites". He hopes his successor can improve on staff diversity.

"I draw a parallel to the BBC: When I watch and listen to the BBC when I'm in the UK I think the on-air talent really represents a diversity of modern Britain, and I'm not yet sure we represent the diversity of modern Australia."

Through the scandal and transition, Scott will be most remembered for his big projects iView and ABC News 24. He points to the runaway successes, like kids show Giggle & Hoot, Josh Thomas' Please Like Me, and indigenous drama Redfern Now.

And he's even proud that Triple J never played Taylor Swift in the Hottest 100 – "none of us were starved of the opportunity to listen to Taylor Swift. If you wanted to, she was ubiquitous. We knew next year you'd be wanting Justin Bieber."

Mark Scott will be walking away from the media business to "think and read". BuzzFeed News asked the former Liberal party adviser if he had any political aspirations. A run for Canberra? A seat on the board of the National Broadband Network? Or perhaps future executive producer of 60 Minutes? But there is just one commitment to the public arena for now.

"I had promised Peter FitzSimons that I'd sign up to the Australian Republican Movement. He wanted me to do it while I was at the ABC and I said I'll have to do it when I finish. So I will fulfil my commitment to Fitzy."

As he's freed from the shackles of public service, get ready to learn a lot more about what Scott really thinks.

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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