Outgoing ABC chairman Justin Milne says no government MPs ever asked him to sack journalists because they didn’t like the broadcaster’s reporting.
He says he quit on Thursday because the controversy around him was putting pressure on the national broadcaster.
The Communications Department boss is investigating reports Mr Milne asked former managing director Michelle Guthrie to fire senior journalists Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn because the government didn’t like their stories.
The ABC board met on Thursday morning without Mr Milne and asked him to step aside during the investigation.
“I said ‘well I think actually I should resign because clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation’,” Mr Milne told the ABC on Thursday.
“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.”
An email has shown Mr Milne asked Ms Guthrie – who was herself sacked on Monday – to fire Ms Alberici in May.
“They (the government) hate her,” he wrote in an email to Ms Guthrie obtained by Fairfax Media.
Mr Milne is also said to have ordered Ms Guthrie sack Mr Probyn by telling her “you just have to shoot him”, because Mr Turnbull hated the journalist.
“Nobody from the government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC,” Mr Milne said.
“Nobody ever told me to hire anybody, fire anybody or do anything else. They absolutely didn’t.”
Mr Turnbull says he did not ask for specific reporters to be axed.
“That is not right. The bottom line is I have never called for anybody to be fired,” the former prime minister told reporters in New York.
“My concern has been on the accuracy and impartiality of news reporting.”
The board is meeting again on Thursday to decide who will be acting chair.
“ABC board and chairman have made the right call,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted.
“Time for the ABC to resume normal transmission, both independently and without bias. That is what Australia’s taxpayers pay for and deserve.”
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has ordered his department secretary Mike Mrdak to run an inquiry and report back within days.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said Mr Milne’s position was untenable after he “allowed himself to be bullied” by the government.
“More concerning for the nation is how the Liberal Party seeks to interfere with the ABC’s independence, cut its funding and eventually look to sell it off,” Mr Shorten tweeted after the resignation.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has called for the full ABC board to be overhauled to give the broadcaster a “fresh start”.
ABC executives will appear before a Senate estimates committee in October.