ABC chairman Justin Milne is under pressure to resign after reports that he told former managing director Michelle Guthrie to sack senior presenter Emma Alberici.
Fairfax newspapers are reporting that Mr Milne sent an email to Ms Guthrie that Alberici had damaged the public broadcaster’s standing with Coalition MPs and to get rid of the reporter because the Coalition government “hated” her.
“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 will lose the next election,” the report quoted the email as saying.
The MEAA, the journalists’ union, has called for Mr Milne to resign, while Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland also called the chairman on Wednesday demanding an explanation for the “extraordinary situation”.
Ms Rowland claimed the ABC’s integrity had been compromised by the affair. Ms Guthrie was sacked as ABC managing director on Monday.
Speaking to ABC Radio Melbourne’s Jon Faine on Wednesday, Alberici said she had not heard that Mr Milne wanted her sacked until she read it in today’s reports.
“It’s disappointing if it’s true, obviously. You don’t want your chairman to hold such a dim view of you and your journalism,” she told Faine.
She added that she had avoided commercial media and “made a very deliberate decision to work for the ABC” because she wanted to work for an independent organisation with no outside influence.
When asked about the possible erosion of the independence of the ABC, Alberici said it was up to the ABC board and the government to decide.
“But it does strike [me] as odd and very disturbing, if the other reports are true, that the Minister was also somehow expressing a view about my continued employment,” she said.
“I just think it really undermines the independence of the ABC and that’s certainly why I work there.”
Mr Milne issued a statement without directly responding to the Fairfax claims.
“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,” he said.
“That is precisely what the board has done and will continue to do. I do not propose to provide a running commentary on the day-to-day issues which arise as we carry out our duties.”
Mr Milne said the directors resolved it was not in the best interests of the ABC for Ms Guthrie to continue to lead the organisation.
Ms Guthrie said she felt her termination was not justified, and she was considering her legal options.