Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has broken is silence after explosive reports on Wednesday claimed ABC chairman Justin Milne called for sacked boss Michelle Guthrie to sack chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici because the government hated her. According to emails leaked to Fairfax and seen by the Sydney Morning Herald, Turnbull made complaints about Alberici’s reporting.
Milne’s comments were contained in an email sent to Guthrie on May 8 and were later circulated to board members in the week before the former Google executive was fired. The chairman was allegedly replying to an email from Guthrie that outlined a complaint from Turnbull about Alberici’s political coverage.
“They [the government] hate her,” Milne said in the email, according to reports by the Sydney Morning Herald. “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC – not Emma. There is no guarantee they [the Coalition] will lose the next election.”
Turnbull reportedly sent a list of grievances to the ABC’s news director Gaven Morris in May about Alberici, listing 11 issues with a story she had written about the government’s research and innovation spending. Morris shared the complaint with Guthrie, who then emailed Milne, the reports revealed.
Turnbull has now weighed in on the controversy from New York City, denying he asked for journalists at the ABC to be fired.
According to Sunrise, he never called for any particular journalist to be fired, but did say he thought the ABC made a number of ongoing mistakes in ABC stories.
“I want to be very clear. I have not complained and I do not complain about sort of left or right bias,” he said. “My concern has been purely about the accuracy and impartiality of news and current affairs reporting on the ABC, that’s the critical thing and I do believe it has deteriorated in recent years which is very regrettable.”
According to The Australian, Turnbull also said everyone is entitled to express their views on the ABC and that ministers, as well as prime ministers, have always done it.
“I want to be very clear that the ABC is independent, the chairman and the board are independent of the government,” he said. “The complaints that have been made have related to the accuracy of news reporting and these are all matters of public record.”
The government is set to hold an enquiry into claims of political pressure, while Milne is being criticised for undermining the independence of the ABC. Meanwhile, Guthrie was ousted from her role as managing director earlier this week. The ABC said the decision came after several months of discussions between directors. David Anderson will now serve as acting managing director until a permanent replacement is found.