Ita Buttrose tells media women to persevere with career

Duncan Murray |

Ita Buttrose supports diversity in media but says the industry shouldn’t “inflict” itself on people.
Ita Buttrose supports diversity in media but says the industry shouldn’t “inflict” itself on people.

Departing ABC chair Ita Buttrose says the media should not “inflict” itself on people in order to meet gender and diversity targets.

The 81-year-old media icon encouraged women to persevere with their careers in the industry, but also noted the work was not for everyone.

“It’s all very well to have the rules, it seems to me, but you’ve got to have the people that want to do the work,” Ms Buttrose told an industry event on Friday.

“If we talk about culturally different people, some of them might not want to work in the media.

“So I don’t think we can inflict our industry on people just because we want to be culturally diverse or gender diverse.”

Having recently revealed she would not seek a second stint as the national broadcaster’s chair, Ms Buttrose delivered the keynote speech at the Women in Media national conference in Sydney.

“(At the ABC) we have people with disability and we have people who are gay and transgender people, you name it, we employ them,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter to me where they come from or what their sexuality is, all that matters is what they bring to the job.”

Having begun working in media at 15 as a copy girl for the Australian Women’s Weekly, Ms Buttrose blazed a trail for women in the industry, becoming the first female editor-in-chief of an Australian metropolitan daily newspaper.

She described serving as head of the ABC as the “culmination” of her career, during which she has helped shape the local media landscape.

“It’s been an honour to chair Australia’s most important media and cultural institution,” Ms Buttrose said.

“I hope I’ve made a difference.”

Ms Buttrose told the federal government last month she planned to end her ABC tenure when her five-year term expired in March 2024.

When asked what she would do when next, she said she was “not thinking of doing nothing”.

“Let me put it this way, I’ve had three interesting phone calls and two book publishers who want to talk to me,” Ms Buttrose said.

“I like to climb mountains – and when I get to the top, I see another mountain.”

Appointed as head of the public broadcaster in 2019, she described a strong ABC as crucial to Australian democracy.

“I make no apologies for my continued passion about the independence of the ABC,” Ms Buttrose said.

“I want Australians to understand how precious and precarious that independence is.”

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, who appeared at the event for a panel discussion on advancing gender equality in media, previously described Ms Buttrose as “the right chair for the right time”.

She told the event the Labor government’s commitment to gender equality was more than just words and it approached policy with a “gender lens” in mind.

“That lens isn’t simply saying, ‘have we ticked the woman box’, it is deliberate, it is detailed,” Ms Rowland said.