The editorial integrity of the supposedly neutral ABC has been called into question after emails between sacked boss Michelle Guthrie and chairman Justin Milne were leaked to Fairfax on Tuesday.
Emails seen by the Sydney Morning Herald appear to show Milne ordering Guthrie to sack chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici because “they [the government] hate her”, following complaints made about her reporting by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
His 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 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 SMH. “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, reports revealed.
ABC staffers were quick to voice their opinions on social media following the publication of the leaked email, including Insiders presenter Barrie Cassidy who said Milne’s comments “go to the heart of the ABC’s independence”.
Justin Milne’s exposed rationale behind his stance on a govt complaint goes to the heart of the ABCs independence. And he’s the chairman!
— Barrie Cassidy (@barriecassidy) September 25, 2018
Members of the public were angered by the contents of the leaked email too, with one person writing on social media: “The job of the Chairman and MD is to resist the impulses of politicians. Turnbull was doing what a lot of previous PM’s have done; however, in Milne he has a willing accomplice. Milne is the cancer that needs to be excised from the ABC, not Guthrie.”
While another wrote: “Surely Milne has to go. Political interference cannot be allowed.”
The shocking revelations come just days after Guthrie was ousted from the top job, following several months of discussions between directors, according to an official statement from the broadcaster.
While the statement said Guthrie had departed the role, The Australian claimed she was sacked following tension between the managing director and Milne over the direction the ABC is going in.
“The decision follows discussions over several months that concluded when directors resolved that it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation,” the statement read.
Guthrie later spoke out to say she was “devastated” that her employment has been terminated despite there being “no claim of wrongdoing” on her part – and added that she was considering her legal options.