- Former ABC chair Justin Milne and Michelle Guthrie, the former managing director of the public broadcaster, are due to appear before a federal parliamentary committee today.
- Both Guthrie and Milne have made written submissions.
- Guthrie alleges interference by Milne in editorial matters, and Milne alleges poor performance by Guthrie.
Former ABC chair Justin Milne and former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie are due to continue their public battle today, this time in the arena of a parliamentary committee where proceedings are privileged and can’t be subject to defamation action.
In opening salvos, both have lodged written submissions to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee which is investigating allegations of political interference in the ABC.
Milne says Guthrie was sacked in a three month process, including a 360 performance review, completed by the relevant supervisors and their subordinates, in April this year.
“The survey was completed by Board members and those employees of the ABC that reported to Ms Guthrie … the results of Ms Guthrie’s 360 were extremely poor and unexpected and this was of very significant concern to the Board,” says Milne.
“Of particular note was the fact that Ms Guthrie’s score for integrity was in the 4th percentile (meaning only 4% of people scored below her and 96% scored above) whilst her score for parameters such as autocracy, arrogance, criticism and distance was in the 90th percentile.”
Guthrie, in her written submission, says there had been growing undue pressure by Milne to fire journalists in order to “please the government” and as a quid pro quo for funding of $500 million.
“When I disagreed with the Chair, the pressure increased,” Guthrie says. She says she took this up with other board members but they viewed the matter as personal between her and Milne.
She reported having the following phone conversation with Milne on June 15:
Milne: “Malcolm hates Probyn [Mr Andrew Probyn, ABC Political Editor] and you have to shoot him.”
Guthrie: “I can’t do that. The Audience and Consumer Affairs Investigation is still continuing. In any event, I can’t fire a journalist for making a mistake, I probably make ten mistakes a day, and that can’t be the test for firing someone.”
Milne: “Your mistakes don’t upset the Prime Minister.”
Guthrie: “That can’t be the test for termination of an employee. The ABC can’t be responding or be seen to be responding to pressure from the government.”
Milne: “Andrew is a problem, we need to deal with this and get rid of him. You are putting the future of the ABC at risk as we are asking the government for half a billion dollars for Jetstream [a technology platform to host all ABC digital content]. We won’t get it by annoying the Government.”
Guthrie: “You can never make the government happy.”
Milne: “[Yelling] Don’t you get it?”
Guthrie: “There is no sense that the government will give us that funding.”
Milne: “[Yelling] Are you are calling me a liar?”
Guthrie: “No, of course not. But we need to let our processes work.”
Guthrie say Milne in April or May this year said that Emma Alberici, ABC Chief Economics Correspondent, should be “fired”.
“This was repeated to me by Mr Milne on multiple occasions, including in email, WhatsApp messages, on the phone and in person,” she says.
A complaint was made by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office to Gaven Morris, ABC Director of News, in relation to a story by Alberici on innovation.
She forwarded the complaint via email to Milne.
On May 8 she says she received an email from Milne saying: “After two glasses of red – of course there’s an agenda. They fricken hate her. She keeps sticking it to them with a clear bias against them. We clear her as ok. We r [sic] tarred with her brush. I just think its’s [sic] simple. Get rid of her. My view is we need to save the corporation not Emma. There is no g’tee [sic] they will not win the next election … ”
However, Milne, in his written submission, says he has never allowed any politician or government body to influence or attempt to influence his role as Chairperson of the ABC and he unequivocally rejects any and all allegations of political or government influence, attempted or otherwise.
“I have exercised my own judgment in the discharge of my duties as Chairperson of the ABC in the pursuit of the best interests of the ABC, its employees and the Australian public at all times and have acted with the complete support of the Board at all times,” he says.
Guthrie was sacked on September 24 half way through her five year term “in the best interests of the ABC”. David Anderson, the director of entertainment, is acting managing director.
At the time, she said: “I am devastated by the board’s decision to terminate my employment despite no claim of wrongdoing on my part.”
She is taking legal action against the ABC.