Justin Milne Michelle Guthrie ABC
Justin Milne and Michelle Guthrie. (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

One of them is telling the truth and one of them is telling porkies.

The ongoing public spat between former ABC chair Justin Milne and former managing director Michelle Guthrie is continuing before an already testy Senate committee today, with both parties digging their heels in.

In fiery questioning from committee chair Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Milne repeated (incorrectly) that chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici’s company tax articles were based on inaccuracies, and said that it was poor journalism which could result in reduced funding if trust in the ABC decreased.

After stating he “felt sorry for Ms Alberici” for being dragged into the fallout from Guthrie’s sacking, he went on to answer questions about her corporate tax articles that were heavily criticised by the government and business leaders when they were published.

Milne has denied trying to intervene in editorial matters and told the committee: “All of these things that I’ve, in my dastardly ways, supposed to have done to effect the ABC didn’t happen”.

Alberici incident continues

When asked how he knew the government “frigging hate” Alberici, he said it was because of the “zeitgeist”, not because he’d been told directly by the prime minister or other politicians. “It was from hearing what the prime minister says on the floor of parliament, from reading the papers,” he said. “The articles were critical of the government but they were based on inaccuracies and that, in my view, is something that the ABC should not do, it is a faulty product.”

Milne said the conversation about Alberici’s employment had been “ongoing”, and rejected that the ABC’s internal complaints process had exonerated her.

Alberici — who has been a constant character in this drama — responded on Twitter yesterday to Guthrie’s claims in her submission that the journalist had been “reprimanded” over the errors, ending a thread about the claims with a one-word tweet: “Enough”.

Milne and Guthrie have both been called to give evidence before the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee, looking into allegations (raised in the wash-up of Guthrie’s sacking) that there had been political interference in the ABC via Milne. Milne has repeatedly denied being influenced by the government during his time as chair, reiterated in his submission to the inquiry and his evidence this morning.

Milne used his submission to suggest changes to the ABC including a longer-term funding model for certainty in planning, and for board members to be involved in appointing new board members to ensure they had the skills required in the role.

Guthrie also used her submission to reiterate claims about Milne that have previously been leaked to the media, then repeated in her interview with Four Corners — that Milne had intervened in staffing matters. She also repeated her claims that the chair had tried to influence decisions relating to Alberici, national political editor Andrew Probyn, Tonightly and triple j’s Hottest 100. She added that board members (not Milne) had criticised her for not reprimanding ABC Melbourne host Jon Faine for criticising her and Milne on-air.

The committee hearing continues.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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