It’s been three days since ABC MD Michelle Guthrie was sensationally sacked, and presumably several weeks brewing before that. And yet, still no definitive word as to why.
What we do know however, is that ABC Chairman Justin Milne–under pressure from then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield– had his sights set not only on Guthrie but another woman too: Economics correspondent, Emma Alberici.
In an email dated May 8, Milne urged Guthrie to terminate Alberici’s contract following accusations from the government that her reporting showed “bias”–specifically, an analysis penned in February regarding Turnbull’s centrepiece corporate tax cut policy.
The piece was fiercely rebuked by Turnbull and Fifield who wrote persistently to the broadcaster about their concerns. Both pieces were amended after publication.
In response, Milne wrote an email to Guthrie, released by Fairfax Media last night.
“They [the government] hate her,” he said.
“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.”
While Guthrie initially sidestepped questions about the incident, she later declared her confidence in the ABC’s editorial standards. “I retain confidence in all of our quality journalists, including Emma Alberici,” she said.
Sticking her neck out on this, was as good as sticking it out for an imminent guillotine.
From reports over recent days it seems Michelle Guthrie was caught squarely between a rock and a hard place. The Coalition’s scrutiny of the ABC had ramped up considerably during her tenure and resulted in a number of broad-stroke funding cuts.
It also didn’t help that the broadcaster’s Chairman, Justin Milne was an old friend of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and willing, it seems, to be swayed by his advice.
The hierarchy in this case was clear: A gaggle of men at the top will always trump a woman in power.
Alberici told ABC Radio Melbourne that she had not heard of Milne’s instruction to have her sacked until today.
“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 said.
She added that she had left commercial media and “made a very deliberate decision to work for the ABC” because she wanted to work for an independent organisation.
But how independent is the ABC if its chairman can so easily be influenced by mates in government?
Off the back of this revelation, The Greens are calling for the immediate resignation of Milne, saying his position at the public broadcaster has become “untenable.”
“As the chair of an organisation that is supposed to be independent of government, Milne has shown he can’t be trusted with the ABC,” Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said this morning.
“There can be no more serious breach than the apparent demand that a journalist be sacked at the behest of the Prime Minister of the day.”
“The board’s responsibility is to uphold the ABC Charter and ensure that the broadcaster is independent at all times and that its journalists and staff can do their jobs without fear or favour. Mr Milne must go.”
But the likelihood is Justin Milne won’t go– because he has the backing of his board and the favour of government. Michelle Guthrie on the other hand, had neither. And for that reason, she never stood a chance.