Justin Milne has stepped down as chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) board Thursday, just days after Michelle Guthrie was fired from her position as managing director of the pubcaster.
The ABC board, in a statement, says that Milne’s departure will remove distractions so that the pubcaster can move forward in its search for a new MD.
In an exclusive interview with the ABC’s 7.30, Milne described his decision to resign as providing “a release valve” during a “firestorm.”
When host Leigh Sales asked if the resignation was an admission that Milne had failed to safeguard the editorial independence of the ABC, he offered an unambiguous no. “The interests of the ABC have always been uppermost in my mind,” he told her.
The question came as Milne faces accusations that he had previously told Guthrie to sack senior ABC reporter Emma Alberici on the grounds that the Australian government “hates” her.
The ABC is funded by the government of Australia, and after Guthrie’s departure, Milne told the ABC that Guthrie’s relationship with the government “could have been better.”
“I think the relationship between the ABC and government is, on the one hand, difficult because of course we need to be independent from government, but it is an important relationship because the government funds us,” he said, at the time.
But Milne assured Sales that “there was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government.”
In a statement he issued after resigning from his post, Milne wrote: “I have never been directed by any member of parliament to seek the sacking of an ABC staff member, nor have I ever directed ABC management to sack a staff member. I have only ever acted with the interests of the ABC at heart. I have always and continue to respect editorial independence as a bedrock principle of the ABC.”
“Let me reassure you that the ABC’s independence is paramount and can never be compromised,” said acting managing director David Anderson, in a message to ABC staff.
“As our Director of News Gaven Morris wrote yesterday, the Australian public has asked to be reassured that the ABC’s independence is protected,” he added. “It has been and it always will be. Our staff should feel confident they can do their job without interference and Australians can continue to trust their national broadcaster as they always have.”
“The Board acknowledges Mr. Milne’s experienced leadership and his contribution throughout his term,” said the board’s statement.
“The Board thanks Mr. Milne for navigating the ABC through challenging circumstances and is grateful for his willingness to put the ABC first in coming to his decision to resign.”
The board is currently searching for Guthrie’s successor. The selection of a new managing director is to be made independently of the government or opposition, according to Australian law.