Communications minister Mitch Fifield denies involvement in ABC leadership debacle

The minister for communications and the arts, Mitch Fifield, has issued a statement denying he has been in any way involved in recent upheaval at national broadcaster, the ABC.

Fifield said he has raised factual errors coming out of the media outlet “from time to time”, but stressed that its operations “are entirely matters for the board and management of the ABC”. His statements come amidst calls for current chairman of the ABC, Justin Milne, to resign.

Fifield: I have never involved myself in the ABC

The ABC chairman is appointed by the government of the day, with previous occupant James Spiegelman beginning his five-year tenure under Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

James Spiegelman was replaced by Justin Milne, who was installed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in April last year.

The ABC is now in the midst of a leadership crisis, after managing director Michelle Guthrie, was abruptly fired by the board on Monday.

Guthrie had been appointed by previous chairman Spigelman in 2015.

Milne is now also facing calls for his resignation, as more details about his feud with Guthrie and his conduct emerge.

The Sydney Morning Herald has revealed Milne tried to pressure Guthrie to “get rid of” journalist Emma Alberici after controversy surrounding inaccuracies in her reporting of proposed company tax cuts.

High-profile media personalities, including Mike Carlton and Andrew Bolt, and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), have subsequently questioned Milne’s understanding of editorial independence and whether he is fit to continue to lead the broadcaster.

MEAA said the reports about Milne’s attempted involvement in staffing issues were “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,” the MEAA said.

“If true, Mr Milne should resign immediately.”

Questions have also been asked about the involvement of government ministers in the ABC, and how much pressure they can mount on the broadcaster and its chairman to effect change.

Fifield has today attempted to quash the speculation, releasing the following statement:

“From time to time, I have raised factual errors in ABC reporting, but have always respected the legislated operational and editorial independence of the ABC.

“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.

“Questions about the ABC’s board and management are matters for the ABC.”


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