Chairman of Australian public broadcaster quits over political interference claims


ABC chairman Justin Milne announced on 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.

"It's a matter for every high office holder to continually assess whether they retain the capacity to effectively discharge the duties of their office", he said.

From New York, Turnbull denied that he sought to fire specific journalists, saying that he had only ever anxious about poor reporting standards rather than bias.

Tanya Plibersek, the acting Opposition leader, said that it was a "shocking abuse of power" if it was true the Coalition Government had pressured the ABC to sack a reporter.

News Corp., citing ABC board documents, reported Milne told Guthrie in a June 15 telephone conversation that Turnbull "hates" Probyn and: "You have to shoot him".

"We will need a new system to rebuild public confidence, staff confidence, journalist confidence, that the appointment of the ABC chair is truly independent".

Speaking to the ABC this morning, though, Milne said the decision to resign was his own, "because clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation".

In departing, Milne denied any government interference, and said he was leaving to "provide a release valve" for the "firestorm" stirred up by the reports.

Milne, it had emerged, told Guthrie back in May that senior government figures "hate her [Alberici]" and her continued presence was damaging to the ABC's relationship with the government.

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"There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the Government", he insisted in the interview.

Guthrie said her termination was not justified and that she was considering legal options.

Guthrie's departure will not be mourned by many ABC staff, whose disengagement was given as a reason for her sacking, but staff anger turned and mobilized quickly against Milne when his private emails were published. "My concern has been on the accuracy and impartiality of reporting".

ABC chairman Justin Milne has resigned, according to a number of ABC reporters.

The conservative coalition has long complained of a leftist bias in ABC reporting.

However, in recent days questions have been asked about both the government and Milne's involvement in the ABC's operations.

Meanwhile, the Morrison government has ordered the communications department to investigate the allegations levelled at Milne.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also denied he'd asked Milne to pressure the board on editorial matters.

Around 70 per cent of Australians want a strong ABC, despite government spending cuts and daily withering criticism from its commercial rivals - who baulk at what they see as unfair competition from the taxpayer-funded behemoth.