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Panpa Bulletin : Oct-Nov-December 2007
andrew olle lecture Growing restrictions on free speech in Australia and the "disgraceful" handling of freedom of information reforms have been attacked by two of the industry's major figures. In his hard-hitting attack, the major shareholder in Fairfax Media, John B. Fairfax, called for greater vigilance against government secrecy and stronger protec- tion for journalists' sources. "I am worried that over the past few years there has been an accelerating slide to se- crecy in government and a weakening of the principles necessary to ensure a vigorous free press," Mr Fairfax said in a Marcus Oldham College speech delivered in Melbourne. Government decisions on FoI requests were unreviewable and the executive "had been placed beyond accountability of the courts on a fundamental issue. Recent federal legislation on shield laws for journalists' sources was "not as strong as it should be." An edited version of Mr Fairfax's address begins on Page 12. In his denouncement of current report- ing restrictions, News Limited chairman John Hartigan was highly critical of the Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's handling FoI reforms. He said the Attorney-General's request to the Law Reform Commission that it con- duct a review of the information laws was not good enough. "I'll be blunt," said Mr Hartigan. "He is kidding. "His decision to ask the Commission to conduct a review on limited terms of refer- ence is a disgrace. "The cost of fighting some of the battles is now so crippling that it does, occasionally, silence us when we should be heard. "We are now seeing restaurant critics sued for venturing their opinion. "Who's next? "We were living in times when press free- dom --- the freedom of speech --- was being more restricted that could be remembered." Mr Hartigan, who was giving the annual Andrew Olle Lecture in Sydney, used the occasion (35 years as a reporter, an editor, an editorial director and now chairman and chief executive) to talk-up the future of the industry and to provide some insights into his own philosophy and that of his organisation. In summary, here are some of his main points: FUTURE OF JOURNALISM: It's bright. Journalism is in very good shape. In many ways, better than ever. There has never been a better time to be a journalist. And the value of good journalism has never been greater. If you really care about journalism you have to be passionate about reinventing it in the digital age. Breaking news coverage might take peo- ple online but it won't hold them there. We need more compelling content to complement what we do in other mediums. We need more specialists, more experts, more people who can provide compelling insights into what's going on. I see this happening already in our newsrooms. Quality is taking on greater meaning, not less. The demands on journalists to get it first, get it right and get it out have never been more urgent. Competition for talent is intensifying. We will need to pay more and offer better opportunities to attract --- and retain --- the best people. GENERATION Y: When I look at young journalists coming through --- from that tal- ented, demanding group we call Generation Y --- I don't despair at how hard they are to manage. I admire them. I admire their expecta- tions. Their ambition to be put in charge five minutes after they get a job. Their outlook which says: "Why should I invest my talent in your company." If I have a reservation about Gen Y, it's this. Do they have the passion? They might be better educated and worldlier. But as someone in a position to hire the next generation, what I want to see is the passionate curiosity and the instincts needed for our craft. They might love their mobile, email and Googling the world. But what they need is to get out of the office and build bloody good contacts. The best stories are still only available this way. THE OLDER GENERATION: Journalism also needs a backbone of wise people. One of the worst mistakes we made at News was to offer voluntary redundancy when we merged the Telegraph with the Mirror in Sydney and the Sun News Pictorial with the Herald in Melbourne. We lost a generation of senior peo- ple. Great writers, expert subs and backbenchers. It's taken a long time to claw back that ground. But now I see a renaissance of seasoned journalists and a renewed respect for them. I see senior people embracing new tech- nology with as much enthusiasm as the so-called digital natives. People aren't hitting the scrap heap at 50 any more --- and thank God for that. There's a healthier mix of youth and experience in our newsrooms. More women in senior roles. Much friendlier arrange- ments to balance career and family ambi- tions. In my 43 years in this game, I've never seen more vibrant editorial cultures than I do today. RUPERT MURDOCH'S ROLE: Does he issue blanket instructions on how to cover politics or major business stories or what to write? No, he doesn't. I read our newspapers every day. I look at the coverage of politics across the group, the tone and treatment of stories, the leaders, the views of our columnists and our contributors. There is no evidence of a blanket order from the top. Because there simply isn't one. When Rupert gets involved it's not as a proprietor, it's as a newspaperman. He will challenge our editors on why they put one story on page one over another story. Or why they wasted a great pic by running it too small. Rupert doesn't vet the copy and nor do I. What we both look for in editors are many qualities. These include audac- ity --- the willingness to take risks and to challenge the status quo. They also include enterprise and creativ- ity and that's not just about making money. Suspicion, often contempt, of authority --- and that includes our own. We don't like yes men. Or women. We like people with the hunger to get after the establishment. People who can inspire others and let them use their talents. People who can make good decisions when they don't have all the facts. Loyalty and a belief in the fair go. And most important of all: passion. News chief speaks on FoI, Gen Y and Rupert By Jack Beverley PANPA Bulletin October-November-December 2007 11
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