Green Left Weekly interviews me about media job cuts and Gina Rinehart

This week, Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher interviewed me about the big job cuts and changes in the Australian corporate media.

In the interview, I talk about how the biggest shareholder in Fairfax and richest woman in Australia, Gina Reinhart has refused to sign the Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence.

Here is what the Charter says:

1. That the proprietor(s) publicly declare a commitment to the fundamental and longstanding principle of editorial independence.

2. That the proprietor(s) acknowledge that journalists, artists and photographers must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members.

3. That editorial staff shall not be required to work other than in accordance with the Australian Journalists’ Association code of ethics.

4. That full editorial control of the newspapers, within a negotiated, fixed budget, be vested with the editors of the papers and that the editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.

5. That the editors alone shall hire, fire and deploy editorial staff.

6. That the editors shall not sit on the board of the owning company or companies, or any non-publishing subsidiary companies, and shall not be directly responsible to the board but to its appointed management.

7. That the editors must at all times carry out their duties in a way that preserves the independence and integrity of the mastheads.

Adopted by Age staff, March 28, 1988

Adopted by the Board of John Fairfax Limited, May 2, 1988

Adopted by Sunday Age staff, December 1990

Adopted by The Sydney Morning Herald, Sun-Herald and Australian Financial Review staff, February 21, 1991

Role for government in protecting independent journalism ?

I was asked to submit 400 words to the Sydney Morning Herald as part of regular feature which puts the same question to four people. I was the ‘academic”,

The question was: Should governments protect independent journalism?

Here is my reply.

AUSTRALIAN governments need to do more to protect independent journalism. If they had done more in the past, the task would not be so urgent now.

Independent journalism will not flourish without diversity of ownership. Governments can pass laws designed to protect that. Our failure to set up adequate rules has led to the most concentrated media in the developed world, with News Ltd and Fairfax Media (the publisher of the Herald) controlling 86 per cent of circulation.

Gina Rinehart, who wants more influence at Fairfax, has so far failed to recognise the right of journalists to report independently. News Ltd already has a more compliant journalistic culture. These two big companies, one controlled overseas, are in a battle for survival. This calamity has been delivered by market forces.

Over the past 30 years, various inquiries have warned that concentration could lead to the abuse of private media power, just as grave a threat as government interference. Governments failed to act because they were wary of media companies who scream ”censorship” as soon as intervention is mentioned. It needs to be understood that the interests of the public and independent journalists are not the same as the interests of media owners.

As companies seek to bolster profits by restructuring and cutting operations, the diversity, quality and quantity of independent journalism are further threatened. Faced with this crisis, governments should consider using tax-payer funds to support a more diverse public interest journalism, as is done with the arts.

The Greens suggest that charters of editorial independence could be statutorily entrenched. Again, instead of shoving the idea aside, we need to finally take the task of providing a framework for independent journalism and democratic media seriously.

The Finkelstein report outlines ways in which diversity and public interest journalism have been protected by subsidies elsewhere. Academics, including myself, submitted an idea for tax deductibility on donations for non-profit investigative journalism. Such journalism could be published in partnership with major companies as well as to support smaller independent media. Some people warn that such schemes could be politically influenced by decision makers. But if schemes have worked elsewhere, they should be considered here.

In submissions to Finkelstein the big media owners all rejected any role for government intervention. But their interests are different from those of journalists and the public. Governments should play a role in supporting journalists in producing diverse and independent journalism.

Wendy Bacon is a professor of journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

You can find the other three replies here.