Chairman of Australia's public broadcaster resigns over independence scandal

Justin Milne resigns from ABC chairman role

Australia's much-loved public broadcaster scrambled to salvage its hard-won reputation for impartiality Thursday (Sep 27), forcing out its chairman who is accused of intervening in news coverage to please the current government.

ABC Chairman Justin Milne has announced his resignation, following mounting tensions with staff and the independent broadcaster's board.

On Monday, ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie was sacked from her A$900,000 (US$653,000) a year job half way into her five year term supposedly due to her "management style" and lack of engagement with staff.

In an interview with the ABC's 7.30 programme, Milne described the week's events as a "firestorm" and said he "wanted to provide a release valve".

"Nobody from the government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC".

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

In one leaked email about economics journalist Emma Alberici, he wrote: "They hate her..."

"Their responsibilities as a director require them to devote extra time and attention should their company be facing problems - we have even seen some cases where they have stepped into the role of acting CEO", Ms Peres da Costa said.

As the ABC itself explains: "The duty of the board is to ensure that the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently with maximum benefit to the people of Australia, and to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation".

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"The bottom line is I've never called for anyone to be fired", Turnbull said.

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

He claimed, according to written accounts of the conversation provided to ABC directors, that the political journalist Andrew Probyn was so out of favour that the broadcaster's state funding was at risk.

Mr Turnbull says he did not ask for specific reporters to be axed. "You don't want your chairman to hold such a dim view of you and your journalism", she said.

There are also reports that Mr Milne attempted to prevent the Triple J radio station from moving it's Hottest 100 countdown, citing the reaction of then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his reasoning.

Mr Milne said there was no political interference from the government in his decisions.

Mr Fifield said he has always respected the ABC's independence and had never sought to involve himself in staffing matters.

"But the idea that the government has somehow got some list and is telling the ABC who should work there and who shouldn't".

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