Former ABC boss Michelle Guthrie denies attempt to sack journalist and accuses Justin Milne of inappropriate touching

Sacked ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has denied colluding with former chairman Justin Milne to fire the broadcaster’s chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, despite an email exchange discussing the reporter’s “external development opportunities”.

The plan was revealed in a Four Corners documentary examining the events that saw Guthrie fired in late September and Milne resign a few days later after accusations of editorial interference and inappropriate behaviour.

Former ABC general manager Michelle Guthrie denies ‘external development opportunities’ was corporate-speak for firing a staffer

In the investigation, it was revealed Guthrie had alleged inappropriate behaviour by Milne shortly after she was given a formal warning by the chairman and fellow director Donny Walford.

Guthrie claimed Milne touched her at a board dinner in November 2017. The investigation went on to to claim the chairman rubbed her back while the group was meeting at Sydney’s Billy Kwong restaurant.

Milne denies the accusation.

Guthrie, a former Google Asia executive and CEO of Rupert Murdoch owned Star-TV in Hong Kong who joined the ABC at the end of 2015 on a five-year contract, received the formal warning from Walford and Milne after board members discovered the the ABC was more than $70m over budget.

In the warning, Milne told Guthrie: “The reason we have asked you to meet with us today is that we need to inform you that the Board has deep concerns about your position as MD and to inform you that your performance cannot continue in its present form.”

Guthrie told the ABC Four Corners team she did not see that as a formal warning.

The board’s dissatisfaction with Guthrie followed a series of fights with communications minister Mitch Fifield and other cabinet members over the broadcaster’s reaction to budget cuts, reports by political editor Andrew Probyn and Alberici’s story criticising the government’s corporate tax plan.

Milne saw the disputes as a threat to the funding of his Project Jetstream digital transformation program.

With Alberici, the two discussed the veteran journalist’s “external development opportunities” as discussed in the transcript taken from ABC TV’s Four Corners report:

I said words to the effect of, “What are we doing … ” Really, “What are we doing about Emma?” I said, “Sure – but I thought you were going to be discussing “external development opportunities” with her”.

“I thought that we were looking at external career development opportunities,” was the stupid term that I used for Emma. Michelle came back and said, “We are. But this interference from Mitch is not helpful.”

That email exchange goes on, Milne says, ” I thought you were going to be discussing external development opportunities with her.” You responded, “We are. but this missive from Mitch isn’t helpful.” What did you mean by ‘we are’?

Well, again, it was having a conversation with her about her career. It was having a conversation, and these conversations were run by Gaven and her news team.

SARAH: What did you mean by external development opportunities?

Yeah, that’s a-

SARAH: Career development opportunities?

That’s a silly corporate euphemism for firing her.

SARAH: Justin Milne says that that phrase, ‘external development opportunities’, is his corporate speak that you would understand to mean firing?


SARAH: To be clear, it was “external development opportunities”, which is external to the ABC. He’s not talking about a conversation around her being moved inside the ABC, he’s talking about external, to which you agree?


SARAH: So there was a question that Emma might be moved out of the ABC?

Well, there was a question where Emma might choose to leave the ABC.

SARAH: What about if she didn’t choose, was that part of the conversation as well?

No, it wasn’t. There was never a conversation about firing Emma.

Following a review by the ABC of Alberici’s reporting of the government’s tax changes, the ABC agreed that the original news story headline and ‘teasers’ for both stories were materially inaccurate but stood by the substance of the pieces.

Guthrie has launched legal proceedings against the ABC over her dismissal. The case is ongoing.


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