Milne defies ABC staff calls to stand aside over Alberici sacking claims

| 26.09,18. 05:06 PM |

Milne defies ABC staff calls to stand aside over Alberici sacking claims

Justin Milne vows to stay as ABC chairman amid calls to stand aside over Emma Alberici sacking report

Justin Milne says he intends to stay on as ABC chairman amid calls for him to stand aside, after a report that he sought to have chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici sacked following a backlash from the Coalition Government.

In a text message exchange with ABC radio presenter Rafael Epstein, Mr Milne said "yes" when asked if he intended to remain in the role.

At a meeting in Sydney this afternoon hundreds of ABC staff unanimously passed a motion calling for Mr Milne to stand aside and for an independent inquiry to take place.

This morning, Fairfax Media reported that it had been given an email from May 8 in which Mr Milne told Michelle Guthrie, who was sacked as managing director on Monday, that the Coalition Government hates Alberici.

"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," he reportedly wrote.

Mr Milne did not comment on the accuracy of the Fairfax report in a statement released this morning, saying instead:

"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. 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."

The motion for Mr Milne to stand aside and for an independent inquiry to take place was carried by a show of hands during the staff meeting at the ABC's Ultimo building. Dozens of staff at the ABC's Southbank studios in Melbourne passed the same motion.

A smaller gathering of staff at the ABC's Brisbane studios called on Mr Milne to publicly acknowledge if the political interference in the reported email was true and, if so, "immediately resign from his position".

The ABC Board has held an urgent meeting this afternoon. It was held via phone and not all board members were present.

The meeting was called as an update on the current situation following Ms Guthrie's departure as managing director, along with stories that have appeared in the media today involving Mr Milne.

Mr Milne was present at the meeting.

The ABC also understands Mr Milne put pressure on triple j directly not to change the date of its Hottest 100 countdown, referencing Malcolm Turnbull.

The decision to move the Hottest 100 from Australia Day was made after extensive consultation with the radio station's audience.

Of nearly 65,000 responses, 60 per cent were in favour of celebrating the countdown on a different date.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said reports Mr Milne called for Alberici to be sacked had not been confirmed. He declined to comment on whether Mr Milne should resign.

Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said it would be a "shocking abuse of power" if the Government pressured the ABC to get rid of a reporter.

She called on Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to say what he knows.

"Is it true that the Government has put pressure on the ABC to get rid of journalists? Is it true that the Prime Minister was involved in putting this pressure on the ABC?" she asked.

Ms Plibersek said the ABC can only maintain its reputation for integrity and independence "with the support of its board and an absolute refusal to buckle to political interference".

Mr Fifield has since released a statement saying that while there have been times when he has raised factual errors in ABC reporting, he has always respected its independence.

"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 said.

Michelle Rowland, Labor's communications spokeswoman, said she directly called Mr Milne to discuss the Fairfax article and there remained "serious questions to be answered".

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Australians deserved a full explanation.

"Mr Milne must step down immediately and allow journalists in the ABC, in our beloved public broadcaster, to get on with their jobs," she said.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) called the reports "deeply disturbing".

"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," the union said in a statement.

Mr Milne replaced James Spigelman as chairman of the ABC Board last year.

He was appointed to the role by the Governor-General after being assessed by an independent nomination panel.

According to the ABC Act, the Governor-General "may remove a non-executive Director from office for misbehaviour or physical or mental incapacity".

When asked if Mr Milne could remain as chairman, former ABC managing director David Hill told ABC News Channel "sadly, I think not".

"I think he has to consider his position and he has to go. It is not even the board's or the chairman of the board's role to decide on hiring and firing staff, that is a matter for management," he said.

Alberici told ABC Radio Melbourne's Jon Faine that she had not heard that the chairman wanted her sacked until she read it today.

"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," she said.

On Monday Mr Milne said during an interview on the ABC News channel that Ms Guthrie's employment with the ABC had been "terminated".


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