Friday, 23 August, 2019

ABC chair resigns over Australian political interference claims

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Patty Aguilar | 27 September, 2018, 18:29

The leadership crisis at the ABC has deepened, with chairman Justin Milne bowing to mounting internal and external pressures, and resigning as the national broadcaster's chairman.

Amid outrage from staff at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Justin Milne stood down on Tuesday, saying the "interests of the ABC have always been utmost in my mind".

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

The outgoing chairman said his decision was driven by a need to protect the broadcaster's reputation and denied he had ever been pressured to sack reporters by members of the Turnbull or Morrison governments. "Nobody (from the government) ever told me to hire anybody, fire anybody, or do anything else", he told the ABC's current affairs program 7.30. He said he never used the term "babes", but did sometimes call people he liked "chicks" in order to relax them.

Ms Guthrie, a former Google executive, said she was "devastated" by her sacking and would consider taking legal action.

"I said "Well, I think actually I should resign, because clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation".

"It's clearly not a good thing for everybody to be trying to do their job with this kind of fire storm going on, so I wanted to provide a release valve", Mr. Milne told the ABC in a television interview.

Interviewer Leigh Sales: "In that email though you didn't say you didn't say you had concerns about fairness and accuracy you said "because the government hates her".

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

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"There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government".

A report claimed Mr Milne called on Ms Guthrie to stop triple j moving the Hottest 100 music countdown from Australia Day because he was afraid of what then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull would say.

Mr Fifield dismissed suggestions his complaints carried significantly more weight given they came from the minister responsible for the ABC.

The board held an urgent meeting on Wednesday afternoon and afterwards Mr Milne said he meant to stay on as chairman.

Speaking in New York, Mr Turnbull defended complaining about ABC "inaccuracies" but strongly denied asking for any reporters to be sacked.

"The bottom line is I've never called for anybody to be fired", he told reporters in NY.

Australia's public broadcaster ABC's head office building in Sydney on September 27, 2018.

Another report in News Limited publications claimed Mr Milne had ordered the sacking of the ABC's political editor, Andrew Probyn.

Milne and Turnbull, who was ousted amid inter-party wrangling in August, are described by Australian media as "long-term [friends]".

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