Neither former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull or any other minister requested ABC journalists be sacked in the lead up to the national broadcaster’s recent leadership woes, an inquiry has confirmed.
But the ABC’s former top brass were in no doubt that senior government members were “very concerned” about editorial standards at the broadcaster.
They also believed that may affect the ABC’s standing and funding.
The findings have been made by a communications department inquiry which probed the events leading up to ex-ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie being fired and former chairman Justin Milne resigning.
Ms Guthrie was shown the door on September 24, with the ABC board saying her ongoing leadership was not in the broadcaster’s best interests.
Mr Milne was forced to quit three days later, after it was revealed Ms Guthrie had told the ABC board he had requested she sack two journalists, because the coalition government didn’t like their reporting.
The inquiry, ordered by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, involved interviews with Mr Milne, Ms Guthrie and acting managing director David Anderson.
Mr Milne confirmed he had spoken with Ms Guthrie via email about the termination of ABC chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, over the accuracy of two of her stories.
He also spoke with Ms Guthrie over the phone about “what to do with” ABC political editor Andrew Probyn, again about story accuracy.
But the former chairman said his comments were not directives.
Ms Guthrie saw things differently, telling the inquiry the email about Ms Alberici was a directive and the call about Mr Probyn involved “significant pressure” to fire him.
Neither journalist was sacked.
In releasing the inquiry findings on Monday, Senator Fifield said he was unaware of the allegations against Mr Milne until they became public.
He stressed no government minister has interfered at the ABC.
“I have never in any way, shape or form sought to involve myself in staffing matters, nor am I aware of any current or former member of the government seeking to do so,” he told parliament, adding the government had never linked budget and editorial matters.
That sentiment was backed up by the inquiry, but it said Mr Milne and Ms Guthrie knew the government held concerns about editorial standards at the ABC.
“They do consider that these concerns would affect the ABC’s standing, relationships and support within government, including for future investment and funding support,” the findings state.
Labor senator Deborah O’Neill said the saga represented a historic moment in terms of the level of the government’s assault on the public broadcaster.
“The sort of intimidation going on for journalists in this country is absolutely extraordinary,” Senator O’Neill said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said a departmental review of the ABC was an “absolute joke”.
Labor and the Greens have repeated their calls for a Senate inquiry into the ABC’s independence.