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Chairman of Australia's public broadcaster resigns over independence scandal

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By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The chairman of Australia’s public broadcaster resigned on Thursday after allegations he appeared to bow to government pressure when he called for the removal of a senior journalist.

Justin Milne, chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), said he would resign after widespread anger from staff, labour unions and lawmakers.

“My aim, has been to look after the interests of the corporation. It’s clearly not a good thing for everyone to be trying to do their job with this kind of firestorm going on so I wanted to provide a release valve,” Milne told the ABC.

Milne’s departure comes just days after the ABC sacked former managing director Michelle Guthrie. The ABC said Guthrie was dismissed amid concerns about her leadership style.

The ABC is funded by the government but is an independent body.

But leaked emails from Milne appeared to suggest funding could be jeopardised if the ABC did not remove a senior journalist who had angered the government through her coverage of its corporate tax policy.

“We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her,” Milne allegedly wrote in the email published by The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.

Australia’s conservative government has traditionally been at logger heads with the ABC, which it perceives as being left wing, with the relationship souring further this year following a funding cut.

Facing widespread anger, Australia’s government said it would conduct an internal investigation.

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

“If they make mistakes and it’s alright for people to call them out on that,” Morrison told reporters in Beerwah, 75 kms (46.6 miles) north of the Queensland’s state capital Brisbane.

“But the idea that the government has somehow got some list and is telling the ABC who should work there and who shouldn’t. That’s complete rubbish.”

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

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