Contributed from Victoria
Journalists and executives at the Melbourne based Age are angry and have let this be known to management. About 70 have consigned a letter to Executive Editor James Chessell, outlining dissatisfaction over the rising political bias of the newspaper.
The matter is related to the merger between Nine Entertainment and Fairfax in 2018. It was really a takeover. Nine ended up with 52 percent of the shares, and therefore the controlling interest. It meant that Nine executives were brought into Fairfax, and this meant decisive influence over editorial content over Fairfax media.
Fairfax was the owner of the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. The merger meant that Nine executives were brought into Fairfax, and this inevitably affected the way its media is run. Nine acquired 51 percent of the shares and turned the new merged entity into a private company
Sydney based Chessell, who was appointed to his present position in 2018, oversees editorial policy over the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, and is central to the editorial shift.
Nine has an obvious association with the Liberal Party. Company Chairman is the former Treasurer in the John Howard government Peter Costello. Last year Nine hosted a $10,000-a-head dinner to raise funds for the Liberal Party at its own studio. Political news stories are increasingly being slanted to favour the Morrison government and undermine its critics.
The letter sent to him says that the “proud reputation and independence” of the newspaper is being compromised.
Journalists are being pressured “to produce particular angles.” And control from Sydney, denies Victoria connected heritage of the Age. The letter argues that editorial control should be handed back to Melbourne.
“We believe there is a growing public perception that we have become politicised, a perception that is damaging the reputation of the Age and, potentially, the viability of the business,” they wrote.
The last straw was a lead story headed “Activists ‘planning trouble’ at protest,” over the planned Black Lives Matter march on 6 June. The article published on 5 June claimed that claimed that those who were going to participate on the following day’s march, had threatened police with physical abuse. No evidence of this was produced.
The age had to apologise and admit that this fell below an acceptable standard.
There was also concern over an editorial, echoing Scott Morrison’s claim that Australia did not have “a legacy of slavery,” when the fact is that Pacific Islander slave labour was used in Queensland’s sugar plantations.
This editorial had to be corrected as well. But it took nine days to do so. This effectively and conveniently hid the correction from public eyes.
If these were isolated cases, they could be excused as aberrations. But they are not, which suggests there is an emerging pattern, making the Fairfax media increasingly less distinguishable from the tabloid journalism and political agenda driven Murdoch controlled media rival.
By standing up to it, thethe signitaries to the letter are alerting Australia to the narrowing down in the diversification of media coverage, which amounts to a threat to freedom of speech.