The Chair of Australia’s public broadcaster has resigned following accusations of political interference.

After a meeting with the Board yesterday, Justin Milne, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) chairman handed his resignation. The decision came only days after the Board decided to remove the former managing director, Michelle Guthrie and led to staff protests across the country.

Milne came under intense pressure to step down following reports that he had been influenced by the government on several occasions. The reports claimed that Milne had urged Guthrie to fire senior reporter Emma Alberici and political editor Andrew Probyn because the Government “hated” them. However, Milne denied the allegations and said he was leaving to release pressure on the ABC.

“I have never sent an email to Michelle Guthrie or anybody else that says you must sack Emma Alberici or Andrew Probyn or anybody else,” Milne said, arguing that the interest of the corporation has always been his priority.

“There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the Government… nobody from the Government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC,” he said.

However, Milne said that the alleged email had to be put “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,” Milne 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,” he added.

The Government has called for dual inquiries into the interference claims and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said Milne’s resignation was “the right decision”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison also welcomed Milne’s resignation.

As the ABC negotiates the fallout from the past week, including staff walkouts, its Acting Managing Director, David Anderson, assured staff that the ABC’s independence remains key to the broadcaster’s work.

“Let me reassure you that the ABC’s independence is paramount and can never be compromised,” he wrote. “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.”

Meanwhile, Dr Kristine Ferguson has been appointed as acting Chair of the ABC Board, saying she will commit to “defend, maintain and uphold the independence of the national broadcaster at all times”.

Dr Ferguson reiterated that the Board has always acted free of any political interference and re-confirmed its approval of Guthrie’s removal.

“All ABC employees can be confident they have the full backing of the Board to carry out their work independently without any threat of political interference,” she added.

Dr Ferguson also added the Board will cooperate with the government’s inquiries in the upcoming weeks.

Editorial independence is a fundamental pillar of Public Service Media, especially in maintaining the trust of the public who pay for it. The Public Media Alliance stands in support of its member ABC in ensuring that its key principles and values are respected.

Header Image: The ABC Ultimo Centre, ABC HQ, Sydney. Credit: lleerogers/istock