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Paul Murphy, venerated ABC and SBS journalist, dies aged 77

Amanda Meade
·4-min read

The much-loved and respected Australian broadcaster Paul Murphy has died aged 77.

Murphy, known for ABC programs This Day Tonight, PM, AM and Nationwide, and SBS’s Dateline, was remembered across the industry on Tuesday for his commitment to public broadcasting, his sharp interviewing skills and his rapier wit.

Journalist Allan Hogan, who met Murphy when they worked together on AM in 1967, said his mate of 50 years was buoyed by visits, calls and notes from friends as he succumbed to cancer at his Sydney home.

Asked how he was feeling by one visitor, Murphy said: “Well, I’m dying, but apart from that …”

The former prime minister Paul Keating was among the people who wrote to thank Murphy for his contribution to Australian public life and journalism, Hogan said.

“Paul had many fine qualities,” Hogan told Guardian Australia. “He was a brilliant interviewer, he was very, very smart, very, very funny and he had a great sense of humour. He was a very warm person; everyone who came into contact with him liked him a lot.”

Murphy was a founding member of Australia’s first nightly current affairs TV program, This Day Tonight, working with Bill Peach, June Heffernan, Tony Joyce, Peter Luck and Mike Carlton. He moved on to the ABC Nationwide program before presenting PM for a decade until 1993.

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He was the founding presenter of international current affairs program Dateline on SBS in 1984.

Murphy also contributed the “South Coast News” segment for many years to Triple J’s This Sporting Life program, based on the fictional activities of former sporting and show business celebrities on the New South Wales south coast. John Doyle, who played “Rampaging” Roy Slaven on the program, was among the visitors to his home, Hogan said.

Carlton said Murphy was one of the ABC’s truly great journalists, and a great believer in the value of public broadcasting.

“I remember him best from the rollicking days when we were reporters on Bill Peach’s pioneering This Day Tonight,” Carlton told Guardian Australia. “Later, as presenter of PM, he was the voice that drove Australia home.

“He was the quintessential professional, utterly unflappable, with an interviewing style that was both polite and insistent. Best of all, he had a sublime sense of humour and a scorching intolerance for cant and deceit.”

Former ABC colleague Kerry O’Brien said Murphy was “a shining light in Australian public broadcasting”.

“[He was] a man of fierce intellect, rapier wit and utter integrity who blazed trails, pursued scoundrels and was the master of the political interview,” O’Brien said.

“He was both role model and dear friend, touched all he worked with and will not be forgotten. He was a giant of his generation.”

The ABC managing director, David Anderson, extended condolences to Murphy’s family and friends on behalf of everyone at the national public broadcaster.

“Paul was a fine journalist and a wonderful friend and colleague to many,” Anderson said. “He will always be an important part of the history of the ABC and of Australian journalism.”

The ABC’s news director, Gaven Morris, said Murphy left an important legacy.

“The enormous contribution of Paul Murphy and others of his generation helped make ABC news what it is today,” he said.

“He had integrity, authority and was a natural communicator. He also had great warmth, making him as well-liked by colleagues and audiences as he was respected.”

Murphy leaves behind his wife Kay and brother Justin, also a former ABC journalist.