The editorial integrity of the ABC was called into question earlier this week after it emerged that the corporation’s chairman Justin Milne had called for a senior correspondent to be sacked, following a complaint about her work by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Just one day after the news broke, Milne, who is a former business partner of Turnbull, announced his resignation from the role, following public outcry, which was sparked by the publication of an email he sent to ousted Managing Director Michelle Guthrie by Fairfax.
Milne sat down for an extensive interview with 7.30 host Leigh Sales on Thursday, during which he denied doing anything to compromise the neutral stance of the public broadcaster, telling Sales: “As always, my interest, my aim, has been to look after the interests of the corporation.”
In a clip from the interview, which will air on the ABC on Thursday night, the seasoned interviewer asks Milne: “Is your resignation an admission that you failed to safeguard the editorial integrity of the ABC?”
To which he responded: “Absolutely 100 per cent not, I feel that the interests of the ABC have always been uppermost in my mind. There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government. Nobody in the government has ever told me what to do. I know that’s the sort of narrative that’s been running in the papers, but that absolutely never happened.”
The Sydney Morning Herald broke the story on Wednesday, reporting to have seen emails which showed 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, made in an email sent to Guthrie on May 8, 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 the accuracy of 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.”
The former PM also addressed the story on Thursday morning, admitting his only complaint was in relation to the accuracy of Albarici’s reporting.
Speaking from New York, he told Channel 7’s Sunrise programme: “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.”
Milne’s resignation doesn’t seem to have satisfied the public though, with many people taking to social media to call for further action to be taken. One wrote: “What about the other members of the board who were literally on board with the chairman’s decision making?”
While another suggested: “It was only time till he went. He failed corporate governance 101. Has he committed a criminal act? Stay turned I don’t think this is over.”