The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has called for a public inquiry into last week’s saga engulfing the ABC, that resulted in the sacking and resignation of two members of its management hierarchy.
Media section president Martin Turner said an investigation to clarify the independence of the ABC’s board and editorial content from the federal government influence was needed, after managing director Michelle Guthrie was fired on Monday and board chairman Justin Milne resigned on Thursday.
Mr Turner said that there were concerns over its independence that led to the to the turmoil at the public broadcaster.
“When talking about the board, the whole thing is that given that they stacked the board with government friendly or people that they want in the role rather than having a very independent board,” said with regards to Mr Milne’s calls directives to Ms Guthrie to sack journalist Emma Alberici.
He added there were also issues surrounding Ms Guthrie and Mr Milne’s appointments.
“Michelle Guthrie was not seen as a necessarily sticking up for the organisation,” Mr Turner said.
“I think she stuck up at times for her staff in a sense of, these are her people, but I do think she probably, again, because of these appear to be more corporate appointments than public broadcasting appointments.”
“They’re hiring people with the wrong kinds of attitudes to what are required where they simply don’t see the necessity of maintaining their independence and they are looking over their shoulder way too much at government.”
“The fact that Malcolm Turnbull is a friend of Justin Milne’s and would get on the phone and blast away, it’s been okay that this has happened through the ages, that the Prime Minister has often done this but when they’re doing it to their own mates,” Mr Turner said.
“That crosses lines and Milne just didn’t seem to have the ability to separate those roles.”
He said the public inquiry needed “at a reasonable arm’s distance from the government” to determine what was needed from the broadcaster that would also fix “any perceived editorial problems.”
Mr Turner called Ms Guthrie’s sacking surprising, calling it a “summary execution” and and Mr Milne’s resignation an “interesting development” because Mr Milne “had no intention of doing so”, but it had an “air of inevitability.”
Ms Guthrie was sacked suddenly mid-way through a five-year contract.
A number of high-profile ABC staff had welcomed the news of Ms Guthrie’s dismissal, including Four Corners executive produce Sally Neighbour who wrote that it was an “excellent decision” on Twitter.
Her firing resulted in ensuing controversy after emails were leaked over the conduct of Mr Milne, who issued directives to Ms Guthrie to fire Alberici because the government “hates her”, along with political editor Andrew Probyn.
ABC staff called for Mr Milne to step down.
Mr Milne resigned to “provide a release valve” but denied that he failed to protect the ABC’s editorial independence or was under political pressure.
Mr Turner said if the ABC’s independence issues were not addressed, the broadcaster were “going to be more prone to attacks” over its content.
“The MEAA are calling for an inquiry to clarify this,” he said.