News National ‘Chicks’ and balances out of kilter in ABC inquiry submission claims

‘Chicks’ and balances out of kilter in ABC inquiry submission claims

Justin Milne and Michelle Guthrie in happier times at the ABC.
The fallout between ABC chairman Justin Milne and managing director Michelle Guthrie led to both leaving. Photo: AAP
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Sacked ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie’s scathing performance assessment has been tabled in Parliament by the national broadcaster’s former chair Justin Milne. 

In his submission to a parliamentary inquiry into political interference, Mr Milne accused Ms Guthrie of making up sensational allegations to increase her bargaining power in termination payout discussions. 

“I note that Ms Guthrie has made allegations that I have inappropriately touched her back during a dinner with ABC staff and board members; That I have referred to her as ‘the Missus’; and that I have referred to women as ‘chicks and babes’,” the submission states.

“I emphatically and unequivocally deny that I have inappropriately touched Ms Guthrie,” Mr Milne said. 

“I have never referred to Ms Guthrie as ‘the Missus’. I acknowledge that I have used the terms ‘chicks’ but never as a pejorative or in a denigrating manner.”

Mr Milne also noted Ms Guthrie’s “reviews“ with colleagues and superiors were poor. 

“The results of Ms Guthrie’s 360 [performance review] were extremely poor and unexpected, and this was of very significant concern to the board,” he states. 

“Ms Guthrie scored below the tenth percentile in many categories assessed by the 360, whereas the average score for chief executive officers globally is above the 66th percentile.

“Of particular note was the fact that Ms Guthrie’s score for integrity was in the 4th percentile (meaning only four per cent of people scored below her and 96 per cent scored above) whilst her score for parameters such as autocracy, arrogance, criticism and distance was in the 90th percentile.”

But in her own submission into the inquiry examining allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ms Guthrie alleges that political interference was central to her termination. 

abc sacking
Former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie (left) and senior journalist Emma Alberici. Photo: ABC News

Ms Guthrie and ABC journalist Emma Alberici also clashed over her submission to an inquiry into political interference. 

She has launched a legal battle that could yet net her millions of dollars and even possibly claim reinstatement. 

“I remain devastated by the termination of my appointment as managing director,” Ms Guthrie said. 

“When I reflect on the events of September, I look back at months of growing undue pressure by the then Chair of the ABC to fire journalists in order to “please the government” and as a quid pro quo for supposed funding of $500 million for Project Jetstream [a technology platform to host all ABC digital content].”

Ms Guthrie again cites political interference in changing the popular Triple J Hottest 100 day from Australia Day. 

But it was her characterisation of discussions with economics correspondent Ms Alberici that has sparked a strong response from the journalist.

“Emma Alberici’s online stories on corporate tax in February 2018 were found by the ABC to contain nine errors in fact as well as omissions of fact that required editing and a number of elements in the story (including the headline) were misleading,” she wrote. 

“As I said in Senate Estimates in February 2018, the ABC had ‘clearly failed’ by publishing a news story and analysis article by Ms Alberici. In particular, the analysis article showed a lack of impartiality.

“ABC chair (Justin) Milne told me that Emma Alberici, ABC Chief Economics Correspondent, should be ‘fired’. This was repeated to me by Mr Milne on multiple occasions, including in email, WhatsApp messages, on the phone and in person.”

In response, Ms Alberici said Thursday night night that the managing director was wrong to suggest she was reprimanded. 

“Ms Guthrie makes a number of false claims, the most egregious of which is that I received a ‘reprimand’ for writing stories that, after much overblown angst, were found to be accurate in substance,” she said.

“Michelle Guthrie jumped the gun by suggesting I had made substantive and catastrophic errors before proper ABC processes were allowed to run their course. Complaints go through an independent system of review.

“The thorough and forensic review of my work found that I absolutely did not confuse profit and income as my many critics in government and business continue to assert. Enough.”

Ms Guthrie also attached her termination letter to the inquiry.

“It was in effect a summary dismissal. I was required to leave immediately. I was not given the option of working out the 12-month notice period provided by the Deed of Appointment,” she said. 

Ms Guthrie also alleges that Mr Milne told her in June that ABC political editor Andrew Probyn had to go. 

“[Prime Minister] Malcolm [Turnbull] hates Probyn and you have to shoot him,” he reportedly said. 

“Andrew is a problem. We need to deal with this and get rid of him. You are putting the future of the ABC at risk as we are asking the government for half a billion dollars for Jetstream. We won’t get it by annoying the government.”

Ms Guthrie also reflected on the human toll of the fracas. 

“For me personally, this is painful. My character, reputation and life are now on public display and the subject public commentary,” she wrote.

“The absence of any clearly stated reasons has resulted in speculation about my professionalism, skills and capacity. I take pride in my professionalism and my achievements at the ABC during the two and a half years I was in the role.”

View Comments