ABC board appoints independent expert to investigate interference allegations

The ABC board appointed an independent expert to investigate allegations of editorial interference by former chairman Justin Milne prior to sacking CEO Michelle Guthrie, the broadcaster has revealed.

Milne stood down from the board last week after emails to then managing director Michelle Guthrie urging her to sack senior editorial staff were published by Fairfax and News Limited outlets.

Guthrie’s dismissal as managing director triggered a new wave of inquiries into the ABC

At the time of the emails being published, communications minister Mitch Fifield also announced an inquiry into the affair. The board’s announcement adds to the list of investigations the ABC is facing including a One Nation-inspired competitive neutrality inquiry and an efficiency review announced by the minister last year.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous week for the ABC that saw the managing director fired on the Monday after mounting tensions between her and the ABC board.

Guthrie then warned she was looking into her legal options before emails from Milne were leaked to The Sydney Morning Herald which suggested the managing director “get rid of” economics editor Emma Alberici following complaints from the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about inaccuracies in her reporting on proposed company tax cuts.

Accusations then followed in the ABC of Milne interfering in the Triple J’s Hottest 100 broadcast date, and in News Limited’s Daily Telegraph that the chairman told Guthrie that she “would just have to shoot” the broadcaster’s political editor Andrew Probyn to keep the Prime Minister onside.

In light of the revelations of interference, ABC staff held meetings across the country, with Melbourne staff declaring Milne should stand aside while Brisbane staff called for Milne’s immediate resignation.

Minister Fifield initially rejected called for an inquiry into the allegations but within hours conceded the claims needed to be investigated.

As pressure mounted, Milne was insisting he was not going to resign, however after a board meeting on Thursday, he revised his position.

Today’s announcement from the ABC Board on the latest inquiry:

This Board has always acted in the best interests of the ABC, has fully debated any issues presented to it and ensured that editorial independence has been maintained. We are united in defending the independence of the Corporation. We have done our job thoughtfully and with due regard to board process.

To clarify various media reports, the Board received a letter from the former Managing Director late on Friday 21 September 2018. In that letter, Ms Guthrie responded to several issues that the Board raised with her. In addition, the former Managing Director raised other matters that she requested the Board investigate on a confidential basis.

The Board resolved on Sunday 23 September 2018 to appoint an external, independent expert advisor to investigate these matters. That investigation is underway, and it is not appropriate for the Board or the ABC to make any further comment pending its completion.

The Board is focused on supporting the Acting Managing Director David Anderson, his leadership team and all employees in fulfilling the ABC’s Charter remit and serving the community.


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