ABC staff unanimously pass motion for chairman to stand aside

ABC staff have called for an inquiry into Justin Milne’s alleged interference in staffing matters, and said he should stand aside while it is conducted.

The decision follows mounting pressure on the chairman to resign, after a story in The Sydney Morning Herald alleged Milne had urged recently ousted managing director Michelle Guthrie to ‘get rid’ of journalist Emma Alberici following complaints from former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

Milne’s email was sent after Alberici wrote a series of articles related to company tax rates. At the time, the ABC removed an analysis piece by Alberici related to the proposed changes, and revised a news story which accompanied the piece. The analysis piece was later reworked when it was found not to meet the ABC’s editorial standards.

This afternoon, staff met at ABC’s Sydney headquarters in Ultimo, unanimously passing a motion for Milne to step down from his role while an independent inquiry was underway.

“That we call for an independent inquiry into the allegations that have been made in the media today, and for the chairman to stand down in the interim while the investigation takes place. The idea behind the investigation is to secure the editorial independence of the ABC from top to bottom,” a statement on the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance website said this afternoon.

Milne has been chairman of the ABC since March 2017.

In Melbourne, the ABC also called for Milne to step aside to make room for an inquiry.

Brisbane ABC staffers went further, unanimously calling for Milnne’s immediate resignation should the email exchange prove to have occurred.

Since the initial Sydney Morning Herald article was published this morning, a number of journalists have come forward, expressing their disdain for Milne’s activity. Former ABC radio presenter, Mike Carlton, said an ABC chairman had “no place” in making editorial decisions, while a blog by Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun this morning, also said Milne “must go”.

The MEAA added the report was “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,” a statement said.

“If true, Mr Milne should resign immediately.”

On ABC Melbourne radio this morning, Alberici said she was not aware Milne had tried to have her sacked. She said it was “disappointing”, arguing it undermined the independence of the ABC.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland called Milne on Wednesday demanding an explanation, but she was not satisfied with the response. Later today, communications minister Mitch Fifield denied any involvement in the leadership crisis engulfing the ABC.

The ABC’s motion follows the termination of managing director Guthrie’s contract on Monday.

A response from Milne this morning, which sits on the ABC website, said: “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.”

Mumbrella has approached the ABC Board for comment.


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