Chairman of Australian public broadcaster quits over political interference claims

The news comes after the ABC board, minus Milne, convened for a crisis meeting this morning to discuss claims he had been influenced by government figures to influence the organisation's editorial decisions - a massive no-no and a violation of the ABC's charter.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has ordered his department secretary to run an inquiry and report back within days.

He said neither he nor the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had ever asked for a reporter to be sacked.

Mr Milne quit the board on Thursday because he says the controversy around him was putting pressure on the ABC.

"It's clearly not a good thing for everybody to be trying to do their job with this kind of fire storm going on, so I wanted to provide a release valve", Milne told the ABC in a television interview.

Mr Milne says the relationship between the ABC and the government is hard because the ABC is government funded but expected to stay impartial.

Speaking to the ABC, Milne said the board had requested he stand aside while the investigation into the various allegations against him was conducted, but he concluded resigning was the better option.

Fun times at Aunty.

In one email to managing director Ms Guthrie - who was herself sacked on Monday - Mr Milne said the government hated Ms Alberici and the ABC should "get rid of her".

ABC coverage is legislatively obliged to be independent and unbiased, but - for reasons either real of imagined - it is rarely perceived this way, particularly when top investigative programs expose stories which are inconvenient and embarrassing to those in public life. "Like most members of parliament, I have, on occasion, raised with the ABC issues of facts in reporting, as indeed I've done with commercial media organisations", Mr Fifield told reporters in Melbourne.

Senior members of the Coalition government have denied applying political pressure to the ABC leadership. "They absolutely didn't", he said.

Acting ABC managing director David Anderson said the ABC's independence was "paramount" and can never be compromised.

Fairfax Media has reported that Mr. Milne wrote an email to Ms. Guthrie calling for Ms. Alberici be fired on May 8, a day after Mr. Turnbull complained to the ABC's news director about an Ms. Alberici report on government spending. "My concern has been on the accuracy and impartiality of reporting".

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch (L) and then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (C) in a 2016 file photo.

From New York, Turnbull denied that he sought to fire specific journalists, saying that he had only ever anxious about poor reporting standards rather than bias.

Mr Turnbull says he did not ask for specific reporters to be axed. My view is we need to save the corporation not Emma.

Powerful factions in the Liberal Party, the dominant partner in the coalition government, are openly hostile to the ABC and are now actively campaigning to have it sold off on the grounds public funds should not be used to support a news organization in a free market economy.

Milne and Turnbull, who was ousted amid inter-party wrangling in August, are described by Australian media as "long-term [friends]".

  • Rogelio Becker