The ABC board has launched an external investigation into claims of interference at board level by former managing director Michelle Guthrie just days before she was sacked.
But the surprise is that the decision was made not under new acting chairperson Dr Kirstin Ferguson, but former chair Justin Milne, following claims that he’d advised Guthrie to fire three high-profile reporters who angered the government.
The board issued a statement today saying it “resolved on Sunday, 23 September, 2018, to appoint an external, independent expert advisor to investigate these matters”.
The statement comes in response to accusations it did not do enough to protect the ABC’s independence and failed in its corporate governance amid calls for the entire board to stand aside.
The day after the board ordered the investigation, Guthrie was dismissed halfway through her five-year contract.
Details of her letter, an attempt to defend her actions and keep her job as the national broadcaster’s MD, subsequently leaked to the media and claimed Milne had told Guthrie “get rid of” economics editor Emma Alberici and “shoot” political editor Andrew Probyn. Those claims ultimately saw the chairman step down a week ago.
“The Board received a letter from the former Managing Director late on Friday, 21 September 2018. In that letter, Ms Guthrie responded to several issues that the Board raised with her. In addition, the former Managing Director raised other matters that she requested the Board investigate on a confidential basis,” the ABC Board statement says, adding that it was “not appropriate for the Board or the ABC to make any further comment” ahead of the investigation’s completion.
“This Board has always acted in the best interests of the ABC, has fully debated any issues presented to it and ensured that editorial independence has been maintained. We are united in defending the independence of the Corporation. We have done our job thoughtfully and with due regard to board process,” it says.
Who is conducting the investigation was not revealed. Communications minister Mitch Fifield has launched his own departmental investigation into potential interference at the ABC.
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