Gerard Henderson has written an epitaph for John Howard, "Despite the views of some left-wing commentators, Howard did not get to the front line in the culture wars, let alone win a medal."
His basis for making an assertion of defeat for Howard is the suggestion that Howard failed in his "expressed aim" to reform the ABC. The question for me is why Henderson fails to really question whether it really was a Howard aim, and if it was whether it can ever succeed. Howard appointed his own Chair (twice)and a number of Board members. There were two selections of CEO (Shiers and Scott), and still "no change".
Could it perhaps be that the issue lies with the charter and not with the staff? The charter has as its objective the provision of programs that "contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflecting the cultural diversity of, the Australian community". But the ABC is also required to "take account of the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and public sectors".
That is, the ABC is not required to achieve the diversity of broadcasting within itself, but to provide diversity in the whole sector - that is including what is broadcast commercially. In that context it is not unsurprising that the ABC contribution is slightly left leaning given that the remainder is slightly right leaning.
Maybe Henderson would like to suggest a different charter?
Postscript. Former ABC director Ron Brunton has written a piece for Henderson's Sydney Institute Quarterly that has been reported on in the SMH. It is an interesting spray that in the coverage alleges that board members couldn't acvhieve much against the ingrained culture of the staff and their lying or "spinning" information for the Board.
It is an incredible claim. At its core it is Brunton admitting that Howard appointed Board members not up to the task, that is they couldn't do what Boards do - set direction, measure performance.
A more charitable interpretation though is the one above. To change the ABC you don't need to change the Board you need to change the charter. But to what?