Justin Milne resigns from ABC chairman role

Justin Milne has resigned as chairman of the ABC board after an onslaught of media reports suggesting that he tried to have two ABC journalists fired out of fear of angering the government.

ABC journalists across the country held mass meetings on Wednesday expressing outrage at the attempted interference in their work and calling for the chairman's resignation.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has ordered his department secretary to run an inquiry and report back within days.

The trouble began on Monday when the ABC board unexpectedly fired Managing Director Michelle Guthrie, claiming it was not in the broadcaster's "best interests" for her to continue.

Her comments come as former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull denied demanding Ms Guthrie sack chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici over her reporting.

An open all-staff meeting was called at the ABC's Ultimo headquarters - which was described as "the most important" in nearly two decades - where a resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the matter was passed unanimously.

Earlier, ABC presenter Jon Faine, who has been named alongside Alberici and political editor Andrew Probyn as having attracted Government criticism, said Mr Milne's attendance yesterday was "ridiculous".

In an interview with the ABC's 7.30 programme, Milne described the week's events as a "firestorm" and said he "wanted to provide a release valve".

"There was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC by the Government", Milne said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull sought to influence the ABC.

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ABC chairman Justin Milne says he never demanded journalists be sacked but says his emails about getting rid of one need context.

Australian news outlets reported he had also directed Ms Guthrie to sack the ABC's political editor, saying: "You have to shoot him".

The scandal has damaged the credibility of both the governing coalition and the ABC, which is government-funded but is required by law to operate independently of party politics.

He is now under pressure from all corners of the political spectrum, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten interrupting his leave to declare the chairman's position was now "untenable", and Labor moving to establish a Senate inquiry into the alleged political interference. "The board is also responsible for ensuring that the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate and impartial, according to recognised standards of journalism, and that the ABC complies with legislative and legal requirements". "They absolutely didn't", he said.

Mr Turnbull personally complained about Probyn to Ms Guthrie at a gathering prior to last year's AFL Grand Final, as Fairfax Media has reported.

"My concern has been on the accuracy and impartiality of news reporting".

"What happened in that particular area was that we, the ABC, found that we were not accurate nor impartial".

"Today, the Australian public has asked to be reassured that the ABC's independence is protected", Mr Morris wrote.

Mr Turnbull said the question of whether Mr Milne should resign was "a matter for him".

  • Sonia Alvarado