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Australian TV chief quits after demanding journalist be sacked for upsetting PM

30 September 2018

The leadership crisis at the ABC has deepened, with chairman Justin Milne bowing to mounting internal and external pressures, and resigning as the national broadcaster's chairman.

Former ABC chairman Justin Milne following his resignation on Thursday.

This comes four days after the surprise sacking of former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie.

Mr Milne said there had been no interference from the government, and he was stepping aside to "provide a release valve" from the public pressure.

"I have only ever raised with the ABC matters in relation to facts in reporting".

The revelations sparked protests from the broadcaster's staff on Wednesday who called for Mr Milne's removal and for the organisation's editorial independence to be protected.

"They [the government] hate her", Mr Milne wrote.

In a text message exchange with ABC radio presenter Rafael Epstein, Mr Milne said "yes" when asked if he meant to remain in the role. He said he never used the term "babes", but did sometimes call people he liked "chicks" in order to relax them. "Nobody ever told me to hire anybody, fire anybody or do anything else", Milne said. "The bottom line is I have never called for anybody to be fired", the former prime minister told reporters in NY.

The day before his resignations, Milne fired Guthrie, ABC's first female managing director, saying that the board of directors had determined it was in the network's best interests to let her go. On another story about innovation, the ABC issued a minor clarification but otherwise rejected the government's complaints.

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"The independence of the ABC is something that this government is deeply committed to".

But leaked emails from Milne appeared to suggest funding could be jeopardised if the ABC did not remove a senior journalist who had angered the government through her coverage of its corporate tax policy.

"It's disappointing if true, obviously", she said.

On Twitter, Bill Shorten said that while he did not always agree with the ABC's reporting, he understood the importance of its independence for Australia's democracy.

Separately, another publisher reports that Milne had also ordered the firing of ABC's political editor, Andrew Probyn, due to government criticism.

Mr Fifield has asked his departmental secretary to investigate the claims of political interference made against Mr Milne, to be completed "as soon as possible".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces ABC board member Dr Kirstin Ferguson has been recommended to take over as acting chair.

"But the idea that the government has somehow got some list and is telling the ABC who should work there and who shouldn't".

Australian TV chief quits after demanding journalist be sacked for upsetting PM