ABC chairman Justin Milne asked former managing director Michelle Guthrie to take action against two ABC journalists, political reporter Andrew Probyn and radio broadcaster Jon Faine, who had upset the government, according to a source familiar with the conversations.
The complaints about the two high-profile journalists were made verbally, and followed Mr Faine’s clashes with a government minister and coverage that upset the Coalition by Mr Probyn, the source said.
The revelation is likely to place more pressure on Mr Milne, who has been attacked by the Labor opposition, unions and commentators for allegedly seeking the termination of economics correspondent Emma Alberici for political reasons.
The source said Mr Milne also complained about the political comedy show, Tonightly, which upset conservatives by directing offensive language at some right-wing politicians.
Michelle Guthrie ‘devastated’ after sacking
A spokesman for Mr Milne didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr Faine emerged as one of the biggest critics of Ms Guthrie, who was fired on Monday, and said she didn’t complain enough about a government decision in May to freeze the broadcaster’s funding for three years.
“I’ve been here since 1989 busting my guts for a vision and a set of values and quite frankly I’m sick of getting it ripped apart because of the failure of our managers,” Mr Faine said on air then.
But Mr Milne’s complaint seemed to be about comments the long-time Melbourne broadcaster made about Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
It is unclear what Mr Milne asked Ms Guthrie to do about Mr Faine, who celebrated her removal on Monday.
Perceptions of Ms Guthrie began to shift on Wednesday after part of an email was published in which Mr Milne told Ms Guthrie to fire economics correspondent Emma Alberici over anti-tax-cut articles that upset the Coalition Government.
“They hate her,” Mr Milne said in the email, which The Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax Media newspapers reported they were told about by a source close to the board.
“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 they [the Coalition] will lose the next election.”
Ms Alberici wasn’t fired, and on Wednesday accused Mr Milne of having a conflict of interest because she reported a company he chairs, MYOB, didn’t pay corporate tax.
Mr Probyn has upset the Coalition several times. In June it accused him of reporting Labor rhetoric about the timing of several byelections as fact. In May the Australian Communications and Media Authority upheld a complaint that Mr Probyn had unfairly treated former prime minister Tony Abbott by calling him “the most destructive politician of his generation.”
ABC journalists across the country will attend union meetings at Wednesday lunchtime to discuss the revelations.
Removing Mr Milne would be difficult because he has similar protections to a Federal Court judge.
The ABC chairman can only be removed by the Governor-General “for misbehaviour or physical or mental incapacity” or if they are bankrupt or miss three board meetings, according to the law.