'Broad, respectful' faith guides former ABC boss

Mark Scott says his faith helped shape him for the task of heading up the national broadcaster.

By Chris Shearer

June 1 2016

Moderating expectations about your faith when you take on a high profile role is no easy task, says former ABC boss Mark Scott.

Mr Scott, speaking as the recipient of Ridley College’s 2016 Faith and Work Award on 13 May, said that when he came to the role at the ABC, both believers and non-believers had ideas about what he would do.

“For those without faith, there can be concern that a Christian media executive will use his or her platform to push their personal calls, to shape the discourse towards a Christian worldview in news, in comment, in drama and debate,” he said. “The ‘sanctimonious barbarian’ was inside the gates. But then of course I’ve met the Christians who fully expect a Christian media executive to use his or her platform to push what they see as their side, to shape the discourse towards a Christian worldview.”

Instead, Mr Scott said that his faith had helped shape the man for the task.

“I would try and make the point that being Christian doesn’t shape as much what I do, but who I am or who I want to be. The Christian decision making, the Christian actions, should be hard to parse, or separate out,” he said.

“Internally, my test was pretty simple: in an organisation where very many weren’t Christian, never or no longer, I just wanted my presence to make sense.”

Indeed, he suggested that Christian principles “made great sense” for someone running an organisation, identifying several “New Testament principles” by which he considered his performance.

“At work, am I quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry? Do [colleagues] see some fruit of the spirit in my life, including those not always associated with CEOs: patience, gentleness, and self-control? A sense of what is important beyond the simple material things of this world. Evidence of faith, hope and love, the greatest being love. Fundamentally, is there any evidence at all that what matters most is the people, acting with compassion for the throng that is around?”

For this reason, he said that he thought it was his colleagues, rather than himself, who could decide whether he had been a good Christian in his time at the ABC. On reflection, he said he hoped the man his faith made him had shone through during the dark moments of his time at the national broadcaster, like the deaths of colleagues, illnesses and other misfortunes that impacted those working around him.

“When I think of how I responded in those moments, I just hope I was up to the task. Showing love and compassion and generosity. Being there for people. Hopefully doing as Jesus would have done, providing comfort and support and strength.”

“Sometimes people would just say to me ‘you’re a good man’. A deceptively simple phrase but one that indicates on that occasion that you did some good to people in need and something that you’d want a follower of Jesus to be. A good man, a good woman.”

Mr Scott also spoke on some of the criticisms levelled at the ABC during his time, reminding the audience that:

“The job at the ABC was to reflect modern Australia to itself, to tell Australian stories, to host a national conversation, to celebrate our shared culture and our cultural diversity. Broad. Respectful. Inclusive. Increasing our understanding of each other and the world around us.”

While he freely admitted conflict was the heart of drama, he noted that some casting choices for programmes played towards stereotypes and extremes, favouring theatre over informed discussion. “I think there has been some valid criticism of how we’ve covered some issues concerning religion and people of faith, and that applies to Christians but not exclusively so.”

“It’s an issue that I held discussions on at the ABC, challenging producers to dig a little bit more deeply to find some nuanced voices, to not just round up the usual suspects.”

Yet ultimately, he felt the ABC had moved towards a “fairer” representation of society during his time, which he contrasted with the potential for consuming media that only confirmed one’s own ideological views. He warned that if neither side of an argument was confronted with fairly presented alternative opinions there was no room for dialogue and open discussion, which lead to a lack of insight, empathy and understanding.

He particularly singled out the vicious debates he’d seen erupt on social media within the Australian Christian community, with various individuals “[f]iring off shots or scoring points on the latest battles on women’s ordination or marriage equality or complaining the people Q&A say are Christians wouldn’t pass their doctrinal test”.

“Jesus had little time for debate with religious folks,” he said. “He saw the crowds and said they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, and that is where he’d spend his time.”

“We do feel harassed and helpless. We need words of hope and compassion. We need light to find a path to truth. In serving Him we serve them, and in serving them we find Him.”