Government To Hold ABC Inquiry After Justin Milne's Emma Alberici Email
ABC staff have called on their chairman to stand aside, after reports he wanted a star journalist fired because of "hate" from government.
Labor and the Greens have calling for a Senate enquiry into allegations of "political interference" at the independent public broadcaster. On Wednesday afternoon, communications minister Mitch Fifield announced the government would open an inquiry into the incident.
Justin Milne is resisting calls for his head from from inside and outside the broadcaster, after Fairfax reported he told former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie -- who was sacked this week -- to fire journalist Emma Alberici after criticism of her reporting on the government's company tax cuts.
“They [the government] hate her,” Milne reportedly wrote in an email on May 8, according to Fairfax.
“We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC - not Emma. There is no guarantee they [the Coalition] will lose the next election.”
The ABC's union members in Sydney unanimously passed a motion calling for an independent investigation into Milne's emails, and for Milne to stand aside as chairman while that occurs.
"The idea behind the investigation is to secure the editorial independence of the ABC from top to bottom," read part of the motion.
"Hundreds" of ABC staff left work and went outside following the lunchtime meeting.
Alberici is the ABC's chief economics correspondent and a former host of Lateline.
"It's disappointing if it's true, obviously. You don't want your chairman to hold such a dim view of you and your journalism," Alberici said in an ABC radio interview.
The reported email was slammed by many high-profile journalists and media commentators both inside and outside the ABC, with criticism that the supposedly independent public broadcaster was being influenced by government. One ABC reporter called the claims "chilling".
The Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance, a union that represents many journalists, said Milne should consider his future.
"Reports this morning of the ABC chairman seeking to interfere in editorial and staffing decisions at the ABC are deeply disturbing," MEAA said in a statement.
"They would indicate 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. If true, Mr Milne should resign immediately."
Speaking on ABC television, former ABC managing director and chairman David Hill said Milne's statement was "untenable" after the "extraordinary" email was revealed.
"I think he has to consider his position and he has to go," Hill said.
"I think the chairman put himself in a totally untenable position."
On Wednesday morning, Milne issued a statement which did not directly respond to the Fairfax report, saying he would not "provide a running commentary" on operational issues inside the ABC.
“The job of the ABC Board is to independently govern the Corporation, protect its best interests, ensure that it is well funded, well managed and that our content is of the highest standards," he said.
"That is precisely what the Board has done and will continue to do. I do not propose to provide a running commentary on day to day issues which arise in pursuit of our duties.”
More to come.