Opinion: ‘Journos are people too’, says Leigh

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Member for Fraser Andrew Leigh
I RISE to speak about the policy and personal implications of changes in the media. In 1970 there were more daily newspapers sold than televisions in Australia; now for every daily newspaper sold there are four televisions.

We used to say of the political coverage in Australia that the media cycle had become a cyclone, but that cyclone now seems to be sweeping across the journalists themselves.

My heart goes out to the 1900 Fairfax journalists whose jobs have been lost in the recent restructure. I am particularly aware of this, representing the north side of the ACT—the ACT being the jurisdiction probably more affected by media losses than anywhere else.

For many other people in this place, they probably only see journalists in the press gallery when they are working, but, as a local member of parliament, I can assure the House that journalists are very much part of the Canberra community.

Without naming any names, I am thinking of “The Age” journalist who lives around the corner from me and whose kids we often play with at the local park, of “The Australian” journalist who often approaches me to discuss issues about local schools, of “The Canberra Times” journalist who is working to raise money for maternal health overseas, and of a Sky journalist who recently joined me on a fundraising run to raise money for local charities. Put another way, journalists are people too.

The decline of the Canberra press gallery, from 283 working journalists in 1990 to around 190 now, has significant implications on a personal level and on a policy level.

I commend the minister for communications for commissioning the Finkelstein Media Inquiry and Convergence Review, which grapple with some of the issues in a changing media landscape, and I commend the member for Wentworth and the Minister for Communications on joining together to call on Gina Rinehart to sign the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence.

The concerns about Mrs Rinehart’s involvement with Fairfax stem mainly from the concern that she may not be solely concerned with maximising the revenue of the brand.

Magnates have of course owned media before but, unlike other media moguls, most of Mrs Rinehart’s ownership is not in media, and that raises questions about how mining issues would be reported were Mrs Rinehart to take control of Fairfax.

I call on Mrs Rinehart to sign the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence, which says, in part, “full editorial control of the newspapers, within agreed budgets, shall be vested in the editors. They alone shall determine editorial content and appoint, dismiss, deploy and direct editorial staff”.

Labor’s concern with Mrs Rinehart’s involvement in the media is that it may threaten our democracy itself and the vibrancy of views that are so essential to an open society.

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