Australia to Launch Inquiry Into Embattled Public Broadcaster

September 26, 2018 Updated: September 26, 2018

SYDNEY—Australia will hold an inquiry into the crisis-ridden public broadcaster ABC following allegations its chairman succumbed to political pressure from the Turnbull government by calling for the removal of a senior journalist, Emma Alberici.

According to local reports, around 350 journalists of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation gathered outside its Sydney office on Sept. 26, demanding that their chairman, Justin Milne, stand down from his role immediately, pending an independent investigation of his actions.

“Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC — not Emma,” Milne had written in an email on May 8 to the former managing director Michelle Guthrie, who was fired just days ago by the ABC’s board—a decision that Milne publicly backed.

According to The Australian, Guthrie defended Alberici from Milne’s attacks.

Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield said in an emailed statement he had asked the secretary of the department of communications and arts to undertake an inquiry to “establish the facts” around the ABC.

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

The ABC is funded by the government but is an independent body.

Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald on Sept. 26 cited a May 8 email in which Milne had urged Guthrie to sack Alberici, who is the ABC’s chief economics correspondent, over her coverage of the Turnbull government’s corporate tax policy.

“They hate her,” Milne allegedly wrote in the email. “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple.”

Milne did not comment on the accuracy of the Fairfax report in a statement, saying instead that the “job of the ABC board is to independently govern the corporation, protect its best interests, ensure that it is well funded, well managed and that our content is of the highest standards.”

“That is precisely what the board has done and will continue to do. I do not propose to provide a running commentary on day to day issues which arise in pursuit of our duties.”

An ABC spokeswoman did not comment on the issue, directing all inquiries to the board spokesman, Andrew Maiden, who was not immediately reachable.

Milne was appointed chairman of the ABC by his close friend the former progressive prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in March 2017. Milne previously served as a senior executive for Telstra and the NBN Co., also under an appointment by Turnbull.

Earlier in the week, Milne was facing pressure to disclose the reason behind the firing of Guthrie.

Conservative Liberal Party senator Eric Abetz, who has in the past been critical of the ABC for left-wing bias, demanded an explanation for Guthrie’s sacking.

“The dismissal of the Managing Director, seemingly without notice, requires a full and detailed explanation from the ABC Board,” Abetz said.

“I am hopeful that the new managing director will ensure that that the Ultimo-centric broadcaster is more in line with the aspirations of Australians including by delivering benefit to the taxpayer, stopping the left-wing bias and bringing an end to the frolics masquerading as news and ‘comedy’ from some ABC employees.”

But in an interview with the ABC, Milne said he would not reveal the details of why Guthrie had been dismissed.

“We feel that we need different leadership to take us through what are very obviously very challenging times,” he said. The board had made the decision and “the details, the ins and outs of that decision I am not sharing with you.”

“The board felt in the end that her leadership style was not the style that we needed going forward.”

Guthrie has since said that she is considering legally appealing the board’s decision as she believes the termination was not justified.

“While my contract permits the board to terminate my appointment without cause and with immediate effect, I believe there is no justification for the board to trigger that termination clause,” she said.

“At no point have any issues been raised with me about the transformation being undertaken, the Investing in Audiences strategy and my effectiveness in delivering against that strategy.”

Additional reporting by Epoch Times staff

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