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Former ABC managing director Brian Johns dead

Brian Johns, a former managing director of the ABC credited with taking the national broadcaster into the digital age, has died in Sydney from cancer at the age of 79.

He headed the ABC from 1995 to 2000 after successful careers in book publishing and journalism during which he was the Herald’s chief political correspondent in Canberra.

The ABC’s current managing director, Mark Scott, said on Friday Mr Johns had seen the future, having realised the ABC’s strategy would involve more than radio and television.

“He knew that all parts of the organisation needed to come together as one,” Mr Scott said.

“Almost more than any other media leader in the country he understood the impact that digital technology was going to make on media organisations and he drove the organisation to change to respond to that phenomenon.”

Mr Johns, the son of a waterside worker, was born in the north Queensland sugar town of Gordonvale but moved to Sydney as an 11-year-old with his family.

He started studies for the Catholic priesthood five years later but left to become a journalist, first in Canberra and then in Sydney where he joined the Herald in 1966 and quickly became chief of staff.

David Dale started his journalism career under Mr Johns and recalled him as a breath of fresh air who urged his staff to delve into the reasons why stories occurred.

“Perhaps it was Catholic guilt that drove him to dig deeper but it certainly energised the Herald,” Mr Dale said.

After helming the newspaper’s Canberra coverage during the Whitlam era, Mr Johns worked briefly for the government before joining Penguin Books Australia 1979 as publishing director where he set new benchmarks in publishing Australian authors.

In 1987 he was appointed managing director of the Special Broadcasting Service. He also was director of the Copyright Agency Ltd board.

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