Justin Milne ABC

It’s hard to believe that former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie was fired just a couple of days ago. Since then, much of the spotlight has shifted to ABC chair Justin Milne, who has since resigned after pressure from the board. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the revelations that have come to light, that’s entirely understandable.

“We had an MD who wanted to be chair and a chair who wanted to be MD,” one journalist told the Guardian. Recapping what we’ve learnt since Wednesday morning paints a picture of just what kind of manager Milne was trying to be.

Taking staffing directions from mates in government

Of course, Milne’s woes all stem from the revelation of his intervention over two pieces by economics correspondent Emma Alberici. On May 8, Milne received an email from Guthrie outlining government complaints about Alberici’s work. His response:

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They hate her. We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC — not Emma. There is no guarantee [the Coalition] will lose the next election.

The Daily Telegraph further revealed that this was around the same time former prime minister (and friend of Milne) Malcolm Turnbull had called Milne “in a white-hot rage” about Alberici’s work on company tax cuts.

The story goes on to say that on June 15, Milne met with Turnbull and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to discuss the ABC’s coverage of the Super Saturday byelections, led by political editor Andrew Probyn — which the government, again, hated­. After this meeting, Milne reportedly called Guthrie to demand she sack (well, “shoot” was the exact word used) Probyn. 

Berating co-workers

The board documents that were leaked to the Tele reveal further problems in Milne’s management process, with allegations he “yelled at” and “berated” Michelle Guthrie.

Guthrie submitted a detailed account to the board before her termination — which, it should be noted, presented a clearer private understanding of the role of the ABC than she displayed in public:

In that phone call that lasted for approximately half an hour, Mr Milne ­berated me about Andrew Probyn saying that the then-prime minister hates him and ‘You have to shoot him’, When I responded that I can’t do that, that I can’t fire a journalist for making a mistake and that I probably make 10 mistakes a day and that couldn’t be the test for firing someone, Mr Milne ­responded that my mistakes don’t affect the prime minister.

Again, I said to him that couldn’t be the test for termination of an employee. I reiterated the need to maintain our public trust and the ABC couldn’t be responding, or be seen to be responding, to pressure from the government of the day.

In response, Mr Milne continued to yell at me and berate me and wouldn’t let me finish the call. He accused me several times of not listening to him and interrupting him. He told me I was putting the future of the ABC at risk as we are asking the government for half a billion dollars for Jetstream and we won’t get it unless I do what I’m told.

Intervening in stories

According to “multiple sources” speaking to The Guardian, the above interventions regarding staffing were not aberrations. It’s alleged that Milne regularly spoke to ABC executives, including news director Gaven Morris, about stories he did not like. “He would intervene by contacting an executive and, not long after, a formal complaint would come in from minister’s office,” one source said.

Banter with the office “babes”

A mucky detail to have emerged this morning is that Milne is reputedly not all that respectful of professional boundaries when it comes to his female co-workers — apparently calling Guthrie “the missus” in front of staff, and referring to women in the office as “chicks” and “babes”. Whether he called fellow board member Peter Lewis “the hubby” or referred to male co-workers as “rakish hunkmen” is, sadly, not established. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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