Tasmanian Coalition senator Eric Abetz claims the ABC has a 'biased fake news fetish'

Reds on the bench… Malcolm Turnbull and ABC journalist Annabel Crabb. Picture: ABC TV

Justin Milne, a close friend of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was CEO of OzEmail in the 1990s, has been appointed the next chairman of the ABC.

Milne, an entrepreneur with a long history of digital media experience, including running Telstra’s BigPond Internet division, has been appointed for five years, replacing James Spigelman. He is chairman of MYOB Group and NetComm Wireless, and a non-executive director of NBN Co, Tabcorp, Members Equity Bank and SMS Management and Consulting.

His appointment was recommended by an independent panel set up to find a new ABC chair after the government declined to offer Spigelman, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of NSW, a second term in the role.

Milne’s appointment was endorsed by Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who used the moment to take a swipe at the national broadcaster as a “lefty love-in”.

Abetz, one of the Coalition’s more strident conservative members, who was dumped from the ministry when Turnbull assumed the leadership, adopted US president Donald Trump’s language to accuse the ABC of running fake news and a “protection racket”.

“The continued denials from the soon to be former chairman that the ABC is plagued by bias, has a fetish for running fake news as fact and is overrun by poor financial management were disappointing and prevented a robust examination of the genuine issues that exist,” Abetz said.

“Given the Australian taxpayer forks out hundreds of millions of dollars to the ABC, it’s important that it is accountable and I am hopeful that Mr Milne will ensure a more independent and community focused ABC.”

Complaints of bias at the ABC are an ongoing theme from the broadcaster’s critics. Two independent editorial reviews of ABC content was held three years ago during Spigelman’s tenure, including one by founding 60 Minutes producer Gerald Stone, found there was no or little bias.

The first review into coverage during the 2013 election campaign, found no breaches of editorial policy. The second, by Stone, looked at 97 stories on 7.30 stories and Lateline and found four that raised concerns.

Today Abetz said it was “vital that Mr Milne end the protection racket that has prevented a full examination of the that has taken hold at Ultimo”.

Earlier this month, ABC said Abetz’s claim that it had “purchased an additional three helicopters taking their fleet to five” was “incorrect”.

The broadcaster said it now leased helicopters across five states, which delivered “a better deal operationally, editorially and financially”.

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