Macklin / ‘Four Corners’ falls short of its high standards

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The ABC let itself down very badly with its final “Four Corners” of the year where it attempted to throw some light on the imbroglio surrounding the sacking of its managing director Michelle Guthrie. The result was pathetic – and quite unworthy of a program that has been the investigative flagship of the ABC for half a century.

Robert Macklin
Robert Macklin.

In the first place it was a silly decision to investigate itself. That was just the sort of foolishness it would have decried if other organisations – the NSW police, for instance – had attempted it. The better plan would have been to commission an outside company to do it. There would have been no shortage of volunteers.

But once they did choose to do it themselves, then at least they should have applied the same rigorous standards they have brought to their better efforts over the years, from Chris Masters’ corruption busting in “The Moonlight State”, or more recently the Don Dale exposure in “Australia’s Shame”.

It was, perhaps, a “rushed job” to put it together for the last show of the year. But that’s an artificial deadline that could (and should) have been extended until they gathered the full story. Even if we accept the deadline excuse, there were some glaring shortcomings.

For example, in her lead in, the host (and reporter) Sarah Ferguson said that the Four Corners’ executive producer (Sally Neighbour) was among those who publicly approved of Guthrie’s sacking. Obviously, she should have been interviewed on camera to give her reasons. That at least would have provided some substance for the dismissal. Then there was the principal trigger for the squabble between broadcaster and government, the hapless reporter Emma Alberici who was accused of making a mistake in an economics report and opinionating when she should have been analysing. What mistake? What opinion? We were never told.

Then there was the head of News, the bellicose Gaven Morris who was allowed to assert his declarations of blamelessness without even the mildest probing from Ferguson. And the board of directors – those closest to the action – were given leave to decline, yet the next day they wouldn’t shut up.

And what the hell was “Jetstream”, the project costing squillions in “digitisation” said to underline the nervousness of the board about offending the Federal cabinet?

What we were left with was a “he-said, she-said” spat between Guthrie and board chair Justin Milne that left this viewer appalled at the thought that either of them were running the most important news and entertainment organisation in the nation. And this is from someone who never lets a week go by without confiding to anyone who will listen: “Thank goodness for the ABC!”

Guthrie could barely put two sentences together, let alone articulate a mission statement for her role in the public broadcaster. Milne offered business-speak pabulum that made no case whatever for sacking her. And then, of course, she dropped the accusation of “inappropriate touching” at a board dinner that she assured us was “not sexual”. Milne denies even that, but really, have we finally reached the stage where we so despise and distrust our fellow human beings that the most innocent “touch” is now verboten?

Alas, that’s even more sad and pathetic than the program that delivered the message.

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  1. Cannot agree with Robert Macklin’s assessment. The program was a very timely and informative account of a matter of public importance. I agree that the statement about Sally Neighbour was left hanging. I suspect that spending more time on explaining Jetstream may have taken the program in a different direction. Geoff, Ngunnawal

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