ABC staff call for chairman Justin Milne to stand down amid mounting crisis

ABC presenter Joe O’BrienABC journalists meet.
  • More voices are calling for ABC chairman Justin Milne to step down over reports he demanded a reporter be sacked because she wasn’t like by the Coalition Government.
  • ABC staff journalists held a meeting and called for an independent inquiry.
  • They want to secure the editorial independence of the ABC.

A meeting of ABC staff journalists today called for the public broadcaster’s chairman, Justin Milne, to stand down following reports he tried to have a senior reporter sacked because she wasn’t liked by the Coalition Government in Canberra.

The motion carried at meetings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, added to other voices calling for Milne to step aside, including the Federal Opposition and the Greens, citing the independence and integrity of the ABC.

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt, who has criticised ABC reporting in the past, wrote: “Milne must go.”

The Coalition Government, however, was standing back. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said: “The operations of the ABC are entirely matters for the board and management of the ABC which, by law, the minister does not have a role in.”

David Hill, a former chairman of the ABC, called the reports of the current chair’s actions “deeply disturbing” and said that, if they were true, Milne should resign.

“The fundamental role of the board of the ABC and its chairman, indeed its legal responsibility is to protect the independence and impartiality of the ABC,” Mr Hill told the ABC.

The board of directors of the ABC was reportedly organising an urgent meeting.

The journalist union members called for an independent inquiry into allegations published today and for Milne to stand down while it takes place.

The motion passed unanimously at the Sydney meeting of MEAA (Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance) members:

“That we call for an independent inquiry into the allegations that have been made in the media today, and for the chairman to stand-down in the interim while the investigation takes place. The idea behind the investigation is to secure the editorial independence of the ABC from top to bottom.”

Thee NSW branch president of the MEAA, Greg Miskelly, described the situation at the ABC as one no journalist could stand for.

“Political interference in any form of journalism is akin to state control of the media,” he said.

Stephen Long, an investigative journalist at the ABC, told the union meeting the ABC was under strong and growing political pressure.

He said the ABC needed a management and a board to defend the ABC.

“The core of what we do is our integrity. The reason the public trust us and why there is overwhelming trust in ABC reporting is because we are trusted to do our jobs without interference,” he said.

“This is about the appropriate role of the chairman and board, and that is not to act as a conduit for pressure from the government or any other powerful vested interests to have journalists sacked who aren’t liked by government ministers or any other powerful vested interests.”

Milne has issued a statement but hasn’t specifically addressed allegations that he told managing director Michelle Guthrie, who was sacked this week, to “get rid” of chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici. Guthrie refused.

In May, after emailing Milne to outline a complaint from then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about Alberici’s coverage, Guthrie was told: “They hate her.”

Milne is a former business associate of former prime minister Turnbull. Milne was CEO at Ozemail in the 1990s when Turnbull was the chairman and a key investor in the internet provider.

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