By Margo Kingston,
April 9, 2013
I know from experience that sometimes when the death of something you believe in stares you in the face you lose your judgement. It seems that this happened to business journalist Paddy Manning yesterday morning. By 6pm last night he’d been sacked. by editorial chief Garry Linnell.
Today, the consensus of a meeting of Fairfax business journos was that management’s decision was correct and that they could take no action to support their colleague. What Paddy did was to write a critical piece about his employer in a rival publication, and that’s a cardinal sin.
Apparently he thought he’d be reprimanded and sent to Siberia for a long time when he wrote his piece for Crikey. He must have thought the principles he was fighting for were worth that sacrifice. I agree with him, and I hope for his sake his stunning protest about what is becoming deeply compromised business reporting at Fairfax will trigger reflection and action.
Some background. Fairfax has been repositioning itself to be more pro-business, a move given added impetus by its decision last week to end the separation between the Australian Financial Review and the metro dailies’ business coverage. Now, after merging the SMH and The Age business bureaus, all three are now in one division, meaning it is likely they will not compete for stories. The Australian Financial Review’s new editor Michael Stutchbury has been noticeably anti-union, pro-business and anti-government since he moved from The Australian.
Ian Verrender, the business editor of the SMH for eight years, took redundancy last year and used his final column, ‘A business reporter’s greatest value lies in asking hard questions’ to warn of what was to come at Fairfax:
A menacing danger quietly lurks behind the technological changes within the media, one that has the potential to debase one of the foundations necessary for a healthy democracy. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the way in which business news is presented, where the interests of a free press and commercial imperatives collide, often with devastating effects.
The more vulnerable media companies become, the less capable they are of withstanding the pressure of vested interests and the more susceptible they will be to attack. Many will adopt the easy way out, that it is best to simply not cause trouble…
Unlike politics or sport, those running big business have a great deal of power. Veer too far from the press release, question a little too aggressively and the mighty weight of a corporation suddenly is hovering above, threatening litigation, demanding your dismissal. The chief executive probably knows a few people on the newspaper company’s board.
Little wonder then that most business reporters default to the easy option. And many begin to believe they are part of the business world, that the reason they are being squired to upmarket restaurants, to corporate boxes and offered trips to exotic places is that they are part of the team.
…This is the final column I’ll pen for BusinessDay. It is an emotional parting but after 25 years, it is time to move on. There have been good times. There have been great times. And the ethos that was drilled into us all those years ago – that we work for the readers, for you – is something that remains true today and hopefully in the future, in whatever form The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald take.
So this is it. Time to clean up the desk. Then again, there is so much clutter and rubbish here, maybe I’ll leave it for whoever comes next. You need a legacy, after all.
Verrender’s column details the terrible toll on ordinary people of big business scams and bad practice due to soft pro-business reporting and spruiking by finance journalists and editors. Thanks to Paddy’s dummy spit, we know that the lessons of cosying up to big business have not been learned, and that compromised ethics are on the rise and getting worse.
The back story from what I’ve gathered today – and I would appreciate input from people in the know – is that there is a process of creeping advertorials in Fairfax business coverage. There have been protests by journos, but apparently management has reassured staff that there is no influence by advertisers (sponsors) on content. The idea is that journalists are commissioned to write for these special sections in the normal way, and write their stories untouched by the advertising sponsorship. However tensions are apparent, as sponsors have begun complaining about what is being written. Read the rest of this entry »