Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has launched a departmental inquiry into potential interference at the ABC after an email from the broadcaster’s chairman, Justin Milne, urging the former managing director Michelle Guthrie to “get rid of” a journalist was leaked to the media.
Following an emergency board meeting on Wednesday afternoon, which backed Milne, the chairman said he intends to stay in the role as pressure grows for his resignation.
His May 8 email purportedly told Guthrie to sack chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici because the government “hate her” saying they need to “save the ABC”.
Alberici wrote two stories on the then-Turnbull government’s proposed company tax cuts that contained factual errors and needed to be amended. The government lodged a series of complaints to the ABC over them.
On Wednesday, additional reports emerged of Milne discussing the dismissal of other staff with Guthrie, including a conversation to “shoot” political editor Andrew Probyn.
The details were purportedly in a document given to the ABC board by Guthrie as she fought to keep her job and was leaked to The Daily Telegraph.
Fifield said he met with the prime minister yesterday afternoon and has ordered a departmental inquiry into the issues raised.
“I have asked the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts to undertake an inquiry to establish the facts in relation to today’s media reports surrounding the ABC,” he said.
“The Secretary will report his findings to me as soon as possible. It is important for the community to have confidence in the independence of the ABC.”
The findings are likely to determine the fate of Milne, who cannot be summarily dismissed by the minister.
Yesterday, ABC staff met in Sydney and unanimously passed a motion calling on Milne to stand aside.
Labor and the Greens are seeking a Senate inquiry into the ABC’s governance and management.
Former chairman David Hill said Milne has placed himself in “an untenable position” and his directions in the email were “an improper thing to have done”.
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