Sarah Ferguson will become the new host of the ABC’s flagship current affairs programme 7.30 – three decades after she joined the public broadcaster as a humble researcher who was hired by her future husband to help on a project.
Ferguson was officially announced on Friday as the replacement to Leigh Sales after the host revealed in February she would step down from her role in June.
It marks a meteoric rise for the veteran investigative journalist who joined the public broadcaster in a ‘sliding doors’ moment some 30 years ago.
Former Q&A host Tony Jones had been working as a London correspondent at the time and hired Ferguson to help him on a story about French politics in 1992.
The pair had met in Paris before marrying a year later in 1993.
‘It was a ‘there you are – I’ve been waiting for you’ moment,’ Sarah Ferguson told Mia Freedman on the latest episode of her No Filter podcast.
Sarah Ferguson will become the new host of the ABC’s flagship current affairs programme 7.30 – three decades after she joined the public broadcaster as a humble researcher who was hired by her future husband to help him on a project
London correspondent Tony Jones had hired her to help him as a researcher for a story in 1992
Ferguson was officially announced on Friday as the replacement to Leigh Sales after the host revealed in February she would be stepping down from her role
The pair have been inseparable ever since and travelled around the world together as they support each other in their roles.
The pair spent a year in Rovinj, in Croatia, in 1996 and relocated to the United States when Ferguson landed a role as ‘special reporter’ in Washington in 2021.
Ferguson officially joined the ABC in 2008 and has produced award winning documentaries, such as ‘The Killing Season’, for Four Corners.
Over her career – which has included high-profile roles in Washington and documentaries about domestic violence, paedophilia and live cattle exports – Ferguson has garnered a reputation for no-nonsense interviewing.
That is what she’s expected to bring to the role as she steps into Sales’ shoes. It’s a role she’s reprised before, filling in as 7.30 host for six months in 2014 while Sales was on maternity leave.
‘I’m delighted to take on the presenter role at 7.30,’ says Ferguson.
‘Led by Leigh Sales and chief political correspondent Laura Tingle, the 7.30 team has created a powerhouse program, making superb current affairs journalism on the cutting edge of the genre.’
‘Working in collaboration with the inimitable Laura is irresistible. Adding myself into that mix sounds tremendously rewarding at a time when scrutiny of power is essential, when our social structures are undergoing profound change.
‘On Leigh’s departure, I’d like to say that her diligence and skill have made an enormous contribution to Australian journalism. What you don’t see in her calm studio presence is the huge amount of work she does in preparation. It will be a pleasure to take over from such a pro.
‘Public service journalism has to deliver for the Australian audience, all day, every day. No one in Australia should ever feel they have no voice.
‘It’s our job to show how public broadcasting can create a place for everyone to come and debate, think deeply, be thrilled, entertained and sometimes provoked,’ Ferguson said.
Jones and Ferguson had initially met in Paris before marrying a year later in 1993
Award winning journalist Sarah Ferguson will replace Leigh Sales as the host of 7.30 Report
Who is the ABC’s new 7.30 host Sarah Ferguson?
Sarah Ferguson was born in Lagos, Nigeria, where her British-born parents lived before moving to Britain as the Biafran war broke out.
Ferguson’s career began in newspapers in the United Kingdom, before moving to Paris and working as a researcher and production assistant on arts programs for French and British broadcasters.
She met her husband Tony Jones, after he hired her to help him for a story on ABC in 1992, while he was working as ABC’s London correspondent .
Sarah Ferguson is pictured with Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
In 2000, Ferguson worked as a reporter for Dateline and Insight. In 2004 she joined the Sunday program on Channel Nine and in 2008 joined Four Corners.
In 2014, Ferguson hosted 7.30 and her interviews with the Australian treasurer Joe Hockey were nominated for a Walkley for journalistic excellence. They would later be described as ‘aggressive’ and ‘the tone of the questioning could have been interpreted by some viewers to be a potential breach of the ABC’s impartiality guidelines.’
In 2014, Ferguson caused controversy at the Walkley Awards when she publicly railed against job cuts at the ABC.
In 2017, as Ferguson was getting off a plane, she was told that her mother Marjorie had died suddenly in England. Later she became aware that hospital negligence had led to her mother’s death. She wrote about the experience in her book On Mother.
‘This is the opposite of seeking to polarise in ways we are seeing in media worldwide.’
ABC managing director David Anderson said audiences ‘know and respect’ Ferguson.
‘Her work has set an unparalleled standard not only in Australian journalism but internationally, as evidenced by her recent reporting from Ukraine,’ he said.
‘Sarah is an exceptional appointment to take over 7.30 hosting duties from Leigh, alongside an outstanding team. 7.30 has been Australia’s premier daily current affairs program for decades and will continue to be so with Sarah at the helm.’
Ferguson took up a temporary post in the U.S. capital early last year after being unable to begin her planned role as the ABC’s Beijing bureau chief due to poor relations between Australia and China.
When she previously hosted 7.30 report in 2014, while Sales was on maternity leave, Ferguson came under fire following a hostile interview with Treasurer Joe Hockey that breached the broadcaster’s bias guidelines, an ABC-commissioned editorial review found at the time.
Presenting ABC’s 7:30, formerly The 7:30 Report, is considered one of the most demanding and high-profile roles in Australian television.
ABC viewers were shocked when Leigh Sales revealed in February she was stepping down as host.
In the months leading up to her resignation, the single mother of two was reportedly struggling to balance her demanding job with homeschooling her children.
Sales says her decision to quit came down to her ‘two beautiful little boys’ wanting to see more of their mum.
Insiders say one ‘contributing factor’ to Leigh Sales exit was the NSW Covid lockdown, which forced her sons, James and Daniel (pictured), into remote learning for nearly five months
Sales is seen in the earlier days of her presenting role of the 7.30 program on ABC
She told viewers she wanted them to hear the news from her ‘personally’, as she explained she wanted to finally spend evenings with her kids after more than a decade.
‘I was appointed to the job on December 3, 2010. This is my 12th year in the seat. That was five Prime Ministers ago. It was so long ago that Donald Trump was just a guy with a bad orange hairdo hosting The Apprentice,’ she said.
‘There’s nothing wrong other than I just feel a strong sense of it being time to pass the baton to the next runner in the race and to take a break. At the end of an election cycle feels like a good time to move on to something new at the ABC.’
She said she hoped it was obvious she had always approached the job with one goal ‘to ask frank questions of people in power, without fear or favour, that a fair-minded, reasonable person with some common sense watching at home might like to ask’.
In a possible first for an Australian TV news presenter, she then used strong language, saying she had ‘tried to shut down and call out bulls**t, hold powerful people to account, expose lies, incompetence and exaggeration in all political parties and all issues and present facts even when they’re unpopular or inconvenient’.
Sales (pictured in 2011) is leaving the show in good shape in the ratings
Sales said anchoring 7.30 has been ‘the most amazing job and I’ll never stop being grateful for the opportunities it’s given me’.
She then mentioned one of her most memorable interviewees over the years.
‘The celebrities come and go but you never forget people like Matthew Low,’ Ms Sales said.
‘His wife was killed in the Dreamworld roller-coaster accident and found the strength down the track to do an interview and try to ensure no other family would have to go through what his family did.
‘People like Matthew are the ones who stick with you.
‘Every time you interview somebody whose life has been devastated you feel terrified by what life has dished up to them and incredibly humbled by how they met it with strength and clarity and dignity and you just don’t forget it.’
She did single out one celebrity, though, saying meeting Paul McCartney ‘and getting a hug from him is one of the best days of my life’.
Ms Sales also mentioned the viewers and how people would approach her in public and say how much joy her interview with McCartney had given them.
She spoke about what a demanding hosting 7.30 is and that it comes with a lot of pressure and scrutiny.
‘When I first started I didn’t have children. And now I have two boys aged 10 and eight. And they’ve only ever known their mum at work four nights a week.
‘They want me home with them before 8.30pm and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask and they’re two beautiful little boys.’
Ms Sales also thanked viewers for their supportive messages about the ABC itself.
‘The ABC is so often under fire and it means a lot to all of us to know the public supports us,’ she said.
She said that 7.30 ‘is an incredibly important program’ and that it will keep going from strength to strength.
‘I’m looking forward to having a good break and figuring out what I do next at the ABC … I’m be around for a while yet.’
She finished by saying ‘Please keep watching, my friends. See you on Monday. Goodnight.’