Politics

Junk Explained: Here’s Why The ABC Is In Crisis Right Now

BREAKING: The ABC is set to lose its second leader in four days.

ABC

Justin Milne has resigned as chairman of the ABC board after an onslaught of media reports suggesting that he tried to have two ABC journalists fired out of fear of angering the government.

After meeting without Milne, the ABC board this morning asked its chairman to step aside following a controversial few days. The Australian has reported that the board has requested that Milne take leave while a government inquiry investigates whether he tried to fire two political journalists.

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”.

“It’s clearly not a good thing for everyone to be trying to do their job with this kind of firestorm going on so I wanted to provide a release valve,” he said. Milne also denied that his resignation was an admission of wrongdoing on his part, saying that “interests of the ABC have always been uppermost in my mind” and “there is absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government”.

The Government Is Investigating Whether Milne Tried To Get Journalists Fired

Milne’s resignation comes after Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told a press conference that Milne should have a think about whether to stay in the job.

“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.

Fifield yesterday announced that his department would investigate the claim that Milne tried to get ABC chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici fired because the government “hated” her, as well as the claim that he told former managing director Guthrie to dump political editor Andrew Probyn after former PM Malcolm Turnbull complained about his reporting.

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

“I want to be very clear: I have not complained and do not complain about left-right bias,” Turnbull said outside the United Nations New York headquarters.

“My concern has been purely about the accuracy and impartiality of news and current affairs reporting on the ABC.”

Milne and Turnbull are old friends, dating back to Turnbull’s early 2000s internet venture OzEmail. Fifield also denied trying to sack anyone in the ABC.

All This, Just A Few Days After Michelle Guthrie Was Fired

It’s been a chaotic week for the ABC — Milne’s resignation comes just a few days after his board sacked ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie on Monday.

At the time, the board announced that it believed Guthrie’s leadership was no longer in the best interests of the ABC. Anecdotes of Guthrie’s behaviour found their way into the media: it was reported that she once told flagship investigative reporting show Four Corners to feature more footage of happy kids on Nauru and to publish more positive profiles of business leaders.

Since Guthrie’s sacking, numerous leaks to the media have shed a light on Milne’s own behaviour. Beyond the reports suggesting that Milne wanted to fire both Alberici and Probyn, Fairfax has reported that Milne referred to Guthrie as “the missus” to staff, and spoke of women as “chicks” and “babes”.

On Wednesday, ABC staff met across the country to decide what to do. Motions were passed calling for Milne to step down while an independent investigation determined whether he really did pressure Guthrie into firing Alberici and Probyn.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance — the union that supports journalists — also called for Milne’s resignation. “Mr Milne has no understanding of editorial independence, proper complaints handling processes, or the appropriate distance a board chair needs to keep from staffing matters,” the union said in a statement.

Both the Greens and Labor have placed their support behind a Senate inquiry into political interference at the ABC, saying that it’s important that any investigation into potential government interference at the ABC must be independent.

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