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Claims of ABC chair’s political interference pile up

ABC stars Emma Alberici, Andrew Probyn and Jon Faine were all allegedly targeted by Mr Milne.

ABC stars Emma Alberici, Andrew Probyn and Jon Faine were all allegedly targeted by Mr Milne. Photo: AAP

Fresh allegations have emerged of ABC chair Justin Milne attempting to interfere on editorial matters that had angered the Turnbull government.

Mr Milne is alleged to have asked sacked managing director Michelle Guthrie to take action against political reporter Andrew Probyn and radio host Jon Faine because they had annoyed the government with their coverage of political stories, The Australian Financial Review reported.

The chairman also opposed moving Triple J’s yearly Hottest 100 music countdown from Australia Day because “Malcolm [Turnbull] will go ballistic”, The Guardian reported.

Mr Milne also demanded comedy program Tonightly issue a formal apology after calling a conservative political candidate a “c—“, The Australian reported.

The ABC board will reportedly meet later on Wednesday to discuss the building pressure on Mr Milne to resign, only days after it agreed to suddenly sack its most senior executive, Ms Guthrie.

Both the Greens and Labor parties will move to establish a Senate inquiry into the Coalition government’s alleged political interference at the national broadcaster.

Fairfax Media reported earlier in the day that Mr Milne wrote to Ms Guthrie urging her to “get rid of” a senior ABC journalist, Emma Alberici, because the government disliked her reporting and “there is no guarantee they will lose the next election”.

The string of allegations have added to a growing perception that Mr Milne – an appointment and former business colleague of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – was too eager to bend to the government’s will.

Mr Milne and Mr Turnbull were both involved in Ozemail, once a major Australian internet service provider. Mr Milne was a senior executive and Mr Turnbull an investor.

At lunchtime meetings across the country, hundreds of ABC staff voted to demand that Mr Milne step down while an independent inquiry investigates the allegations of political interference.

“The idea behind the investigation is to secure the editorial independence of the ABC from top to bottom,” the motion passed by Sydney staff stated.

ABC union representative Greg Miskelly told the crowd: “Political interference in any form of journalism is akin to state control of the media.”

Mr Milne appeared to be “bowing to political pressure”, which no journalist could tolerate, the union representative said.

In a matter of hours, Mr Milne had become the face of a story that began with Ms Guthrie’s sudden sacking.

Ms Guthrie was removed by the board as managing director at the start of the week – a move welcomed by many ABC staff at the time. She was reportedly widely disliked for a host of reasons, including her alleged failure to defend the ABC against funding cuts.

Unless Mr Milne resigns, it will be difficult to fire him.

By law, the ABC chair is appointed by the governor-general and can only be removed for misbehaviour, physical or mental incapacity, bankruptcy, or absence from three board meetings in a row.

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