- ABC chairman Justin Milne has resigned four days after sacking managing director Michelle Guthrie.
- He departed amid growing controversy over leaked emails showing he had asked Guthrie to “get rid’ of a journalist.
- However, he denied giving instructions that anybody should be sacked at the ABC.
ABC chairman Justin Milne has resigned but says there was no political interference by the federal government in the national broadcaster.
The ABC board met this morning without Milne to discuss growing calls for action after reports Milne demanded a reporter, Emma Alberici, be sacked because she was “hated” by the Coalition Government.
Milne resigned four days after he announced the sacking of managing director Michelle Guthrie.
According to leaked emails, Milne asked then managing director Michelle Guthrie, who was sacked earlier this week, to “get rid” of Alberici, the national broadcaster’s chief economics correspondent.
However, Milne said today: “I have never provided instructions that anybody should be sacked.”
He said the quoted piece was only a part of an email that had been “taken out of a context”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the decision, saying in a tweet that Milne had “made the right call”.
ABC Board and Chairman have made the right call. Time for the ABC to resume normal transmission, both independently and without bias. That is what Australia’s taxpayers pay for and deserve.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) September 27, 2018
ABC staff, the Federal opposition and conservative commentators had been calling for Milne to step aside.
In an interview with the ABC’s Leigh Sales, Milne confirmed the board asked him to stand aside but said he replied that he would resign to provide a “release value” for the pressure on the ABC.
“Clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation and as always my aim has been to look after the interests of the corporation,” he said.
“There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government. Nobody every told me to hire anybody, fire anybody or do anything else. They absolutely didn’t.
“Nobody from the government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC.”
A statement from the ABC directors says the board would meet to decide on an acting chair.
Milne, asked to confirm the contents of the email to Guthrie about Alberici, said: “The role of the chairman, as really defined by the (ABC) Act is top look after the corporation and to look after the longevity and survival of the corporation and in particular to look after and be responsible for editorial independence and accuracy. When there is an issue of editorial independence and accuracy it’s appropriate for the chair to be involved. It’s the chair’s job. It’s defined.”
He then confirmed: “Yes, we had conversations about that and we had conversations with multiple people and those are swirling conversations where essentially where managers and the chair at that particular time were trying to decide: What shall we do here?”
Interviewer Leigh Sales: “In that email though you didn’t say you didn’t say you had concerns about fairness and accuracy you said ‘because the government hates her’.”
Milne: “I have never sent an email to Michelle Guthrie, or anybody else, which says ‘You must sack Emma Alberici or (political reporter) Andrew Probin or anybody else’. This is a piece of an email that I actually haven’t seen … taken out of a context a conversation which was a confidential conversation and a conversation that you should expect to be had. ‘What do we do about this?’ That’s what this conversation was. But I have never provided instructions that anybody should be sacked.”
Malcolm Turnbull, the now former prime minister, and Milne are former business associates. Turnbull was chairman and a major investor in Ozemail in the 1990s when Milne was the CEO.
Turnbull, who when prime minister had criticised Alberici over a series of reports, says he didn’t pressure ABC management to sack journalists or change editorial decisions.
“As is a matter of public record, we did complain about the very poor standards of journalism, and lack of accuracy of journalism shown on a number of occasions by ABC journalists,” Turnbull said from New York.
“The chairman of the ABC and the managing director of the ABC and the director of news at the ABC are talking to politicians, and other members of the public, presumably, all the time.
“Just as the executives and news directors and editors of the private sector media are — it’s very important to be engaged.
“But the decisions about staff or any other matters that are within the jurisdiction of the board, are taken by the board independent of government.”
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