Of course we want independent newspapers
I support the Fairfax ‘declaration’ of Independence. It’s just that is is useless and doesn’t really address the big issues.
Like how come the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are such piss poor papers?
Why are they blancmange instead of biting, mediocre instead of media red, fucked instead of fighting, crap instead of creative, lugubrious instead of left?
The stampede to the right of Australian politics reflects itself in a newspaper chain that doesn’t know if it is Piers or Andrew, Gerard or Peter. This not only impacts on its opinion pieces but the papers’ content and approach.
The Age and the SMH are crap because they don’t know if they are right wing or centre right. They can’t be too right wing because then they’d be in bed with Rupert. And they can’t be left wing because, hey is anyone left wing these days?
I mean look at Albo and the other comrades in the Labor Party. The ALP Left has been a strong champion of…Yeah, I couldn’t think of anything either.
There’s just one problem in this shift to the right by parties and the newspapers of capital. Society (and for the dummies in charge at Fairfax, translate that as readers) is consistently to the left of the ALP and hence of the Age and SMH on social and economic issues.
A more left wing approach from Fairfax might attract readers back to its flagships in Sydney and Melbourne. It won’t happen.
Expansionary austerity would have us believe that cutting back government spending will allow private enterprise to grow. I think it is more like cutting down the forest to let the weeds spread.
Neither the Age nor the SMH have challenged this approach in any fundamental way. In fact they express their rejection of it by feeding us a diet of centre right rubbish, occasionally leavened with soft left rubbish.
We crave real discussion and debate but the mainstream media is not about challenging the way society operates. It is after all dependent for its existence on the exploitation of workers by capital.
And so it compromises between its readership and their desire for a left with a spine and the media’s need to defend the profit system it is an integral part of and the neoliberalisation of all the major and not so minor parties and the various institutions of power, including the media.
Take editorial independence. Here’s what the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence says in full:
The Age, Sunday Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Sun-Herald, Australian Financial Review
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
This charter arose amid fears of a takeover, first in 1988 and then in 1991. The first takeover tycoon was a crook – Robert Maxwell. He drowned after his theft of his workers’ retirement funds was discovered.
The second was a consortium including Conrad Black (just released from prison this year after convictions for fraud) and Kerry Packer.
The Charter was seen as a way of stopping them exercising their ‘malevolent’ influence over the editor and his or her appointments.
Now the idea of a charter to keep the barbarians at bay is a good one. Superficial, but good.
Rupert Murdoch agreed to something similar in taking over the Times. That worked a treat didn’t it?
As well, the owner can appoint the editor. So if Gina Rinehart increases her stake in Fairfax (or maybe even at 19.9%) she can have a big say in who her editors are. If she gains control she can hire and fire them.
So she could sign the charter of independence and either ignore it or appoint editors who do her bidding.
The history of the Age and SMH since the early 1990s has not been one of independence. It has been one of cloying and coquettish kowtowing to capital and capitlaism.
It is a special example, but take the paper of the bourgeoisie, the Australian Financial Review, a paper owned by Fairfax. It speaks openly to the bosses about the issues at hand.
In recent months, under the editorship of ex-News Limited hack Michael Stutchbury, the AFR has become in tone more and more like The Australian – shrill, hectoring and even more partisan.
Thus respected columnist John Quiggin, a Keynesian, got the boot from the AFR recently. No charter of independence protected him.
And that’s the problem. The Charter picks up on only one aspect of the complex relationships between owners and editors, between them and staff and between all 3 groups and readership and the community.
A capitalist newspaper can be no more independent from capitalism than the nervous system from a living human.
The idea of independence too is based on the myth of good owners and bad owners. Ultimately all are concerned with profit.
Presumably the current owners of Fairfax are good because they have signed the charter of independence. But aren’t they the same people who are going to sack 1900 staff, close down the printing presses, turn the Age and SMH into tabloids and hide them behind a paywall?
That doesn’t sound like a good owner or boss to me.
If Fairfax workers were to fight this attack on jobs and take over the plants and production of the Age and SMH, then the possibility of real independence arises, an independence from capital and an expression of the lives of the vast majority oppressed and exploited under capitlaism.
A good first start to independence and to buidling it on the ground would be for Fairfax workers to strike against the planned 1900 job cuts.
For those readers searching for a paper that is independent here is a link to Socialist Alternative.