Journalists call for Rinehart to commit to Fairfax Charter
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Journalists at The Age, Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald have called on Fairfax Media’s largest shareholder Gina Rinehart to heed calls for her to commit to the company’s Charter of Editorial Independence.
“Media assets are not just any other business,” said Alliance acting federal secretary Paul Murphy. “Because the products of a media outlet are news and opinion, it can wield enormous power. With that comes responsibility. That’s one reason why there have been two government inquiries into the media industry this year.”
The public’s right to information and respect for the truth are fundamental principles of journalism. “The Fairfax business plays a vital role in a functioning democracy. Its audience chooses to read Fairfax editorial content because it is independent journalism protected from editorial interference. And advertisers choose to advertise where the readers are. Trample on the audience’s relationship with the editorial content and you fatally cripple the business.”
The Fairfax charter dates from media tycoon Robert Maxwell’s attempts to seize control of The Age. It was created after a massive public campaign in March 1988 and endorsed by the Fairfax board. A similar charter was created for the Sydney Fairfax newspapers in February 1991. The Fairfax charter was revised by then chairman Sir Zelman Cowen when Conrad Black’s Tourang consortium bought the Fairfax business. The Fairfax board endorsed it again in March 1992.
“The Fairfax charter requires the company’s directors to publicly declare a commitment to the fundamental and longstanding principle of editorial independence. It also allows the editorial staff to do what they do best: produce high quality, ethical, independent journalism for the audience regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members. The charter defines the relationship of the company’s owners, the editor, and the staff, so that the proprietor is separated from power over the day-to-day preparation and presentation of news and opinion,” Murphy says.
“The charter also allows journalists to do their job without fear or favour or commercial interference.”
The Alliance believes it makes smart business sense for owners of media businesses to embrace charters of editorial independence. “Owners who seek to interfere in the editorial process undermine the very product the business produces: quality editorial content. Readers switch off or abandon media assets that become megaphones for their owners, destroying a media company from the inside and ruining the investments of thousands of shareholders,” Murphy said.
“Fairfax journalists are passionate about their work. They believe strongly in their mastheads and their duty to inform and entertain the Fairfax audience. If Gina Rinehart wants to invest in an excellent media asset like Fairfax, then she should do everything she can to preserve and promote the great traditions of the business and embrace the charter of editorial independence.”
Fairfax Papers Charter of Editorial Independence
The Age, Sunday Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Financial Review, Sun Herald
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's Code of Ethics;
4. That full editorial control of the newspapers, within a negotiated, fixed budget, be vested with the editors of (the five 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 five papers).
Adopted by Age staff 28 March 1988
Adopted by John Fairfax Limited board. 2 May 1988 Reaffirmed by Age staff. 4 October 1990
Reaffirmed and adopted by Sunday Age staff - December 1990
Adopted by SMH, AFR and Sun Herald staff. 21 February 1991
Preamble when originally adopted by Age staff `The prime asset of The Age newspaper is its independence in the gathering and presentation of news, features and opinion. We, the journalists, artists and photographers working for this newspaper, seek the following undertakings, in writing, from any purchasers of The Age.”