The ABC has remained adamant that a story about “toxic culture” around women in federal parliament is in the public interest.
Four Corners aired allegations about government ministers’ conduct on Monday night after an investigation into the issue.
ABC managing director David Anderson was coy about the details of the story as he appeared at a Senate estimates hearing hours before it is due to air.
“What people came to us with was a concern over a culture and a culture that was considered to be a toxic culture,” he told the committee.
“That was otherwise characterised as a women problem. And allegations that are serious allegations.”
Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour praised management for running the story.
Mr Anderson said ministerial staff had questioned if the story was in the public interest in emails copying in himself and other high-level managers.
But he didn’t believe there was a direct threat in communications with government offices.
“It goes to conduct of ministers, ministers of the Crown, to be held to the highest standard in society. That’s the nature of the story,” Mr Anderson said.
“It is absolutely in the public interest.”
Liberal senator Amanda Stoker questioned if Labor or Greens politicians were investigated over similar issues.
“It just doesn’t sound like it’s a story about the culture of the building at all,” she said.
“It sounds like it is a sting about the targets in one party, namely the Liberal Party.”
But Mr Anderson rejected suggestions the coalition was targeted.
“It is not a sting, it is where the evidence took us with regard to current government ministers serving back when the ministerial code of conduct was instituted,” he said.
He said all claims in the story had been sourced and put through stringent editorial and legal checks at the highest levels of the organisation.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who banned ministers from having sexual relationships with staff after Barnaby Joyce’s personal life exploded, is interviewed in the program.
Mr Anderson also said ABC chair Ita Buttrose had told him a “ministerial staffer” had alerted a board member to the fact the story was being produced.
Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he couldn’t respond to allegations without seeing the story.
“We would just expect that the ABC always is that they would act in an independent and an unbiased apartisan way,” he said.
“If they’re going to make inquiries, I would think they’d want to do them across the political spectrum.”
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