Government to launch inquiry into interference at the ABC

The minister for communications and the arts, Mitch Fifield, has gone back on his earlier statement implying he would not get involved in the crisis engulfing the national broadcaster the ABC, and announced his department will undertake an inquiry into the allegations against current chairman Justin Milne.

Fifield said the truth – relating to allegations Milne pressured recently ousted managing director Michelle Guthrie to sack ABC journalist Emma Alberici after complaints from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – needed to be uncovered.

Fifield: The community must have confidence in the ABC

Fifield’s full statement:

“Having met with the Prime Minister this afternoon [Scott Morisson], I have asked the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts to undertake an inquiry to establish the facts in relation to today’s media reports surrounding the ABC.

“The secretary will report his fundings to me as soon as possible.

“It is important for the community to have confidence in the independence of the ABC.”

The ABC board is meant to operate as an independent body and is responsible for the ABC’s operations.

The chairman and the ABC board are responsible for ensuring the ABC acts in the best interests of the people of Australia, and should exist to ensure the independence and integrity of the broadcaster. Its function would not normally extend to getting involved in individual staffing matters.

As the ABC itself explains: “The duty of the board is to ensure that the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently with maximum benefit to the people of Australia, and to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation. The board is also responsible for ensuring that the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate and impartial, according to recognised standards of journalism, and that the ABC complies with legislative and legal requirements.”

The ABC’s board, currently headed by Milne, selects the managing director, while the governor general of Australia appoints the board and chairman at the recommendation of the government.

Milne (far left) next to Guthrie when they still officially worked together

In recent days, questions have been asked about both the government and Milne’s involvement in the ABC’s operations.

The crisis at the national broadcaster ramped up on Monday when Guthrie was sacked by the board.

Guthrie was abruptly sacked on Monday and has expressed she is looking into her legal options. Milne has thus far refused to be drawn on-the-record about Guthrie’s failings, other than pointing to her leadership style.

In light of Guthrie’s departure, emails from Milne were leaked to The Sydney Morning Herald which suggested Guthrie “get rid of” Alberici following complaints from the then Prime Minister Turnbull after controversy surrounding inaccuracies in her reporting on proposed Turnbull government company tax cuts.

Milne was appointed by Turnbull and the pair are long-term friends.

The Labor opposition has now called for a Senate inquiry into government interference in the ABC, but communications minister Mitch Fifield has denied he has at any time injected himself into the ABC’s operations.

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

According to the ABC itself, however, Milne is intent on staying put.

ABC’s leadership crisis: A timeline 

24 September: ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie in shock departure

24 September: Fired ABC boss Michelle Guthrie considers legal options, claiming ‘no justification’ for dismissal

26 September: Calls mount for ABC chairman Justin Milne to resign

26 September: Communications minister Mitch Fifield denies involvement in ABC leadership debacle

26 September: ABC staff unanimously pass motion for chairman to stand aside

26 September: Justin Milne rejects calls for him to resign as ABC chairman


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