Chairman of Australian public broadcaster quits over political interference claims

Hugh Fox
September 30, 2018

Guthrie's ousting set in train events which finally engulfed the man who engineered her sacking, ABC chairman Justin Milne, who resigned on Thursday on revelations that he had applied pressure for journalists to be fired because they had offended senior government figures in their reporting.

ABC chairman Justin Milne announced Monday that ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie, who is also the broadcaster's editor in chief, had been fired halfway through her five-year contract because the board did not like her leadership style.

Mr Milne indicated on Wednesday he had no intention of quitting over the scandal, but has stepped down as chairman of the national broadcaster after a second board meeting in two days.

Milne's resignation follows accusations that he asked Guthrie for two ABC journalists, Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn, to be dismissed.

"I feel that the interests of the ABC have always been uppermost in my mind". Get rid of her.

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The ABC is funded by public money, but has its editorial independence protected by a legislated charter, the BBC said.

Mr Milne's board position is not due for re-election at Tabcorp's annual general meeting next month.

Turnbull, who has been living in NY since being forced to resign as prime minister, said he had complained about the two journalists, but never asked for their dismissal, according to The Associated Press.

Staff in Brisbane unanimously voted for Milne to resign.

On Thursday, Milne, a former executive at Australian telecom giant Telstra, described the recent reports as a "firestorm" and said he chose to quit because he "wanted to provide a release valve" for the network.

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Hours before Milne's resignation, the communications minister, Mitch Fifield, indicated that Milne no longer had the support of the government.

Mr Milne, who is a friend and former business partner of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, said it was not true that Mr Turnbull had rung him in a fury about Alberici's reporting.

In the email, Mr Milne allegedly said that "we need to save the ABC - not Emma" and that "there is no guarantee" that Labor would win the next election.

Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist says the allegations have "shattered" trust in the ABC's independence and means it's time to change the broadcaster's governance processes. "They absolutely didn't", he said.

The government didn't respond to a report in March, but Mr Oquist said a debate on the issue is bound to happen now.

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The chairman is also said to have ordered Ms Guthrie sack Mr Probyn by telling her "you just have to shoot him", because Mr Turnbull hated the journalist.

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