Justin Milne (right) faced accusations that he was influenced by the Government’s criticism of ABC journalists. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
A Senate committee has declared political interference — or the prospect of it — is experienced “to varying degrees” throughout the ABC.
- Senators cite calls for ABC journalists to be sacked as evidence of political interference
- Coalition senators on the committee reject the findings and insist it is not happening
- The committee says “the ABC’s status as a trusted institution” could be undermined if governments interfere
The Labor-dominated parliamentary committee has been examining allegations of political interference within the public broadcaster.
The allegations became public after managing director Michelle Guthrie was sensationally sacked, and accused then-chairman Justin Milne of trying to have two senior reporters fired because he believed the Federal Government did not like them.
The committee’s report said the “unprecedented” events at the ABC raised questions about interference from the Government.
“The committee believes that political interference or the prospect of political interference, and all that that entails, is experienced to varying degrees throughout the ABC,” the report said.
“While Australians have considerable trust in the ABC, this trust is not blind.
“Should Australian Governments continue to undermine and erode the independence and integrity of the corporation, the ABC’s status as a trusted institution will be significantly diminished.”
Justin Milne (left) resigned days after Michell Guthrie (centre) was ousted. (ABC News: Marco Catalano)
The committee also recommended the ABC’s selection criteria for board members be amended to ensure applicants with substantial media experience were elected.
It further advised the Government acknowledge the “benefit and desirability” of stable funding for the ABC as a guard against political interference.
Government rejects Senate findings
Coalition senators on the committee wrote a dissenting reporting, which strongly rejected the claim that political interference was happening at the ABC.
“The inquiry found no evidence of political interference by the Government or the former prime minister,” the dissenting report reads.
“Claims that there have been attacks on the ABC have not been substantiated by the inquiry.
“The Minister for Communications, in his statement to the Senate of 15 October 2018, addressed the allegations of political interference in the ABC that had been made and argued ‘all these claims are without basis’.”
Just days after the ABC board sacked Ms Guthrie, Mr Milne resigned.
He has repeatedly denied he ever attempted to interfere with the ABC’s editorial independence.
The committee chair, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said it was clear the ABC “has been under pressure from political interference”.
“This inquiry has shown that the ABC is seen as the Government’s play thing, when in fact it is owned by the Australian people,” she said.
“It is heartening that ABC staff stood up for the organisation’s independence, warding off political interference attempts. But they should be able to do their jobs, without fear or favour.
“The ABC must be able to move on from this difficult period to continue doing the job that millions of Australians trust them to do. That means it needs funding restored and guaranteed, so governments cannot interfere when they don’t like what makes the news.”
Ms Guthrie launched legal action against the public broadcaster after her sacking, initially seeking to be reappointed.
Last month she reached an out-of-court settlement worth $730,000 in return for ending her legal action.
Ms Guthrie was also paid more than one year’s salary when her contract was terminated, separate to the out-of-court settlement, taking the total pay out to $1.64 million.
Media veteran Ita Buttrose was announced as Mr Milne’s replacement as ABC chair last month, while a new managing director is yet to be appointed.