[B&T has updated this story following Justin Milne’s resignation this morning] The carnage at the ABC following the sacking of its managing director Michelle Guthrie continues with Board director Justin Milne this morning resigning and the government forced to launch an inquiry into claims it interfered with content and called for journalists who reported unfavourably to be sacked.
Yesterday, Fairfax Media published emails that alleged the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had complained to (his good friend) Milne about the reporting of the the ABC’s chief economics reporter, Emma Alberici. Milne then pressured Guthrie to sack Alberici, saying, “They [the government] hate her. We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her.”
Responding to allegations he wanted Alberici sacked, Turnbull, who’s been in New York since being dumped as prime minister four weeks ago, said last night: “We did complain about the very poor standards of journalism, and lack of accuracy of journalism shown on a number of occasions by ABC journalists,” he said before adding, “I gave no instructions to the ABC chairman (Milne) on any matter.”
This morning, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, was dragged into the debate telling reporters that Turnbull didn’t “harbour a hated” towards the ABC. “The ABC isn’t perfect, you know, they make mistakes, and it’s all right for people to call them out on that and raise those issues with the ABC,” he said.
However, The Daily Telegraph is this morning reporting that back in May, Turnbull had phoned Milne in a “white hot rage” over Alberici’s reporting that Turnbull believed was “riddled with errors”. The report also alleges that Milne had pressured Guthrie to sack its chief political editor Andrew Probyn because Turnbull hated him and it was putting billions of government funding at risk.
The Tele revealed it was in possession of Board documents that showed a phone conversation between Milne and Guthrie. The document reports Guthrie has having said: “In that phone call that lasted for approximately half an hour, Mr Milne berated me about Andrew Probyn saying that the then-prime minister hates him and ‘You have to shoot him’.”
Adding to Milne’s woes, Fairfax is reporting that he’d regularly used sexist language to describe female colleagues which included calling Guthrie “the missus” while he’d referred to female staff as “chicks” and “babes”.
This may explain why Guthrie has hired a specialist sexual discrimination lawyer to defend her following her dismissal on Monday and despite a stipulation in her contract that she could be dismissed from her $900,000 a year post without cause or reason.
Amid calls by Labor and the Greens for a Senate enquiry into allegations of government meddling at the ABC, communications minister Mitch Fifield announced that the government will launch its own investigation.
“Having met with the Prime Minister this afternoon, 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,” Fifield said in a statement.
“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.”
In further developments:
- At a meeting at its Ultimo offices in Sydney yesterday hundreds of ABC staff unanimously passed a motion calling for Milne to stand aside and for an independent inquiry to take place. Dozens of staff at the ABC’s Southbank studios in Melbourne passed the same motion.
- ABC News Breakfast presenter Michael Rowland revealed yesterday an ABC board member had personally told him a number of senior executives at the public broadcaster were so unhappy with Guthrie’s leadership that they were prepared to quit.
- Alberici told ABC radio yesterday that reports the government had wanted her sacked were “disappointing if it’s true”. Alberici adding: “You don’t want your chairman to hold such a dim view of you and your journalism.” She said she’d left the commercial networks and “made a very deliberate decision to work for the ABC” because she wanted to work for an independent organisation with no outside influence.
- It’s alleged that Milne had pressured Triple J bosses not to move this year’s Hottest 100 from Australia Day for fear it would antagonise the Turnbull government. It did it anyway, moving the annual countdown to the following day.