Ita Buttrose recalls ‘open sexism’ at News Corp in 1980s where women were seen as ‘the enemy’

The Guardian
The Guardian
ABC chair Ita Buttrose Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

News Corp was a world of open sexism in the 198os where women were regarded as the enemy, ABC chair Ita Buttrose has said in a media lecture.

“In 1981, Rupert Murdoch poached me from Kerry Packer to be editor-in-chief of the Daily and Sunday telegraphs,” the former newspaper and magazine editor said in her Andrew Olle address.

“He is a brilliant newspaperman and told me he wanted to make his newspapers less ‘blokey’ and more feminine.

“News Ltd was a tremendous cultural shock. There I encountered a world of open sexism.

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“I went from a company where women were encouraged and given opportunity to one where we were almost regarded as the enemy.”

Buttrose said the first 12 months were tough and she was subjected to classic exclusion tactics in which people “forgot to tell me, so I was left out of meetings”.

“I was hissed at when I walked through the open-plan fourth floor, and lift doors were closed in my face,” she said.

But as soon as she had success, growing the circulation to outsell the rival paper, she was accepted.

The veteran journalist and former editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly was chosen to give the Olle address on the eve of the public broadcaster’s 90th year celebrations. It is the first one in three years because of the pandemic.

“Our first wireless broadcast is said to have reached just 6% of the Australian population,” she said at a black tie dinner in Sydney.

“Today the ABC reaches more than 90% of Australians each year and we have become one of Australia’s most trusted and loved national institutions … for good reason.”

Buttrose, who was appointed by former prime minister Scott Morrison but has been a strong defender of the ABC’s independence, said journalism was about listening to community concerns and fashioning them into powerful stories, and that journalists must always be prepared to defend the integrity of their output against powerful interests.

Buttrose paid tribute to two of her good friends: the late ABC journalist Andrew Olle, who died at the age of 48 in 1995, and the late Caroline Jones, who died last month.

“With her fine mind, her discreet but commanding presence, her poise and grace, she was a singular and inspiring figure to all who knew her, and a symbol of integrity to the Australian audiences who loved her,” she said. “She was a champion of women in the media, and a beloved mentor to regional and rural women journalists who face particular obstacles in their careers.”

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Buttrose’s speech was a celebration of journalism, which she described as “still the greatest job in the world”.

“I have never regretted my decision all those years ago to become a journalist,” she said. “I’ve had the most wonderful career, which I’ve enjoyed and still am; I have travelled, witnessed history in the making, met famous and not so famous people, and along the way I’ve acquired knowledge.

“Journalism has educated me and allowed me to become a graduate of the university of life. All the good things that have happened to me in my life have been through journalism.

“Every now and then journalism allows us to make a difference. It’s a good feeling, something to be proud of … cherished and protected.”

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