A cloud continues to hang over Fairfax Media (the publishers of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review, Newcastle Herald, Illawarra Mercury and Canberra Times) after mining magnate Gina Rinehart bought a 19% share of the company. Rinehart has demanded three positions on the eight-member Fairfax board and the deputy chairman’s post for herself.
There is widespread alarm at this move because Rinehart, well-known for her right-wing views, believes that she should be able to interfere in the editorial direction of the Fairfax newspapers – particularly on the issues of climate change and mining. She has refused to sign the charter of editorial independence that the current Fairfax board is committed to.
“I don’t want to wake up in the morning to find that my newspaper choice is between Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart,” said Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt MP. “Editorial independence is critical so that journalists can file a story without having to worry that the newspaper owner is going to ring them up to say 'don’t file that story orchange it’.”
Both Labor and Liberal spokesmen have voiced “concern” about a Rinehart takeover but rejected a proposal by WA Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, that parliament pass legislation guaranteeing the editorial independence of newspapers by requiring proprietors to sign a charter of editorial independence. Meanwhile the current board and management at Fairfax are pursuing plans to cut hundreds of journalists from their papers on the grounds that falling circulations, the switch to the internet and dwindling advertising revenues make the old quality journalism impossible to fund.
This crisis in the financing of serious journalism has led to voices as diverse as Crikey publisher Eric Beecher and journalism academic Wendy Bacon advocating arms-length government subsidies for investigative journalism.