27 Sep 2018

ABC chairman Justin Milne resigns

3:13 pm on 27 September 2018

ABC chairman Justin Milne has announced he will resign in the second high-profile departure from the Australian national broadcaster this week.

Justin Milne.

Photo: AFP

Mr Milne described this week, in which managing director Michelle Guthrie was sacked and he was accused of interfering in the broadcaster's editorial independence, as a "firestorm".

The ABC Board is meeting to decide who will be the acting chairman.

In an exclusive interview with 7.30's Leigh Sales, Mr Milne described the week's events as a "firestorm" and said he "wanted to provide a release valve".

"Clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation, and as always, my interests have been to look after the interests of the corporation," he said.

"It's clearly not a good thing for everybody to be trying to do their job with this kind of firestorm going on."

Mr Milne had been under enormous pressure to stand down.

In the days after Ms Guthrie's acrimonious departure, explosive reports claimed Mr Milne had earlier urged the then managing director to sack two prominent reporters because the Australian government "hated" them.

Fairfax Media claimed Mr Milne emailed Ms Guthrie in May to insist senior journalist Emma Alberici be fired.

Another report in News Limited publications claimed Mr Milne had ordered the sacking of the ABC's political editor, Andrew Probyn.

Mr Milne today told Sales he had always tried to safeguard the ABC's editorial independence.

"There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the government," he said.

"Nobody from the government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC."

Earlier today, the ABC board met without Mr Milne.

When asked whether he sent an email to Ms Guthrie instructing her to "get rid" of Alberici - the ABC's chief economics correspondent - Mr Milne said it needed to be explained "in context".

"When there is an issue of editorial independence and accuracy it's appropriate for the chair to be involved - it's the chair's job," he said.

"[But] I have never sent an email to Michelle Guthrie or anybody else, which says you must sack Emma Alberici or Andrew Probyn or anybody else."

He described what was reported as "a piece of an email" but later also said: "You can't go around irritating the person who's going to give you funding again and again if it's over matters about accuracy and impartiality."