ABC chairman Justin Milne has resigned following mounting public and internal pressure.
On Monday, ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie was sacked by the ABC’s board, who stated it had decided it was not in the public broadcaster’s best interest that she continue to lead the organisation. David Anderson, director, entertainment and specialist, was appointed acting MD, while Guthrie announced she would consider legal options.
In the days since, Fairfax Media reported that Milne – a friend of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who was appointed chairman last year – had pressured Guthrie to “get rid of” ABC senior journalist Emma Alberci because she was disliked by the Federal Government.
The news of this prompted ABC staff in Sydney and Melbourne hold meetings in which they voted for Milne’s resignation, and staff in Brisbane called on the chairman to publicly acknowledge if the reports were true, and if so to resign. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) also called for Milne to resign immediately if claims were true.
Minister for Communications and the Arts Mitch Fifield issued a statement yesterday saying “I have never involved myself in staffing matters, nor am I aware of any member of the Government who has sought to do so. The operations of the ABC are entirely matters for the board and management of the ABC which, by law, the Minister does not have a role in”. He later announced an inquiry to “establish facts” around the media reports. Labor leader Bill Shorten publicly called Milne’s position “untenable”.
Further reports by News Corp have since also claimed that Milne asked Guthrie to “shoot” ABC political editor Andrew Probyn because Turnbull hated him.
The ABC board met this morning without Milne, who publicly announced his resignation during an interview with Leigh Sales for the ABC’s 7.30, which will air this evening.
I just finished an extensive interview with Justin Milne in which he announces his resignation as ABC Chairman. Don’t miss #abc730 tonight
— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) September 27, 2018
In a snippet of the interview that has been released, Milne denied that his resignation was an admission that he failed to safeguard the editorial independence of the ABC, and that anyone from the government has ever told him to “hire anybody, fire anybody or do anything else.”
Following the news of Milne’s resignation Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted: “ABC Board and Chairman have made the right call. Time for the ABC to resume normal transmission, both independently and without bias. That is what Australia’s taxpayers pay for and deserve.”
This afternoon, Minister Fifield also issued a statement that Milne’s decision was the right one, and “which puts the interests of the ABC first.” He said the government will appoint an acting chair, and commence the legislated process to put appoint a permanent chair. He also said the inquiry launched on Wednesday, being conducted by the secretary of Communications and the Arts will continue.
In the wake of the ABC’s leadership crisis MEAA has called for a Senate inquiry into the situation, arguing that the news of the last few days is the result “not a one-off attack on the ABC’s independence, but is the culmination of years of inappropriate external meddling in the ABC’s affairs.”
“Mr Milne seems to have misunderstood that the role of the ABC is as a public broadcaster, not a mouthpiece for the government of the day,” said MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy.
“The job of the chair of the ABC is to defend the independence of the broadcaster from political attacks, not to act as a messenger or do a hatchet job because the government is unhappy with the coverage it is receiving.
“ABC journalists cannot do their jobs of reporting fairly and without fear if they do not have confidence that the board and the chairman have their backs.”
Meanwhile, as Anderson acts as MD, Michael Carrington – who was acting as head of distribution following the departure of Rebecca Heap in May – has been appointed acting director, entertainment and specialist. Carrington is also a former ABC head of children’s content, and has held roles at the BBC and Turner Broadcasting.
Carrington said: “I couldn’t be more excited to act as Director, E&S, over the next few months. It’s an honour and a privilege to manage such a world-class content team and, indeed, an important part of the ABC. For me, the most important thing is that we continue to focus on what we do best: developing, producing and backing extraordinary content. I’m looking forward to working with the entire Entertainment & Specialist team to continue to deliver the best stories and conversations to our audiences across our radio, television and online services.”
While Carrington is acting director, Sally O’Donoghue (currently manager iview) will be the acting head of distribution until early November, when Cath Dwyer (currently manager radio, RN, digital radio & radio Australia) will then step into the role until the end of the year.