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Panpa Bulletin : Oct-Nov-December 2007
news 12 PANPA Bulletin October-November-December 2007 Anewspaper --- a good newspaper --- is an institution in a community and vital in order to preserve a lifeline between individuals and those who govern. It is particularly important in this era of globalisation that we never lose sight of localism and our communities. Therefore the newspaper is very much a lifeline that simply cannot be severed if we are to maintain a cohesive and relevant community life. We do have to keep growing, adapting and modernising, if we are to succeed in an ever-faster, more competitive and more complex world. But we must make sure that as we go for- ward and make innovative changes, we also take with us the proper values and character that enable us to be proud as a community and as a nation. Freedom is not a licence; it is a right, but with responsibilities. Free speech is a right but, as publishers, we have a greater responsibility to take care in the exercise of our rights than a single individual does --- and that this is incum- bent on us as publishers because of the megaphone we hold. In many communities, we have held that megaphone for over a century. The Bendigo Advertiser began in 1853 --- one year before The Age. The Maitland Mercury and The Launceston Examiner are both over 150 years old. The Ballarat Courier has just marked its 140th birthday. The Sydney Morning Herald is 176. When we mark these occasions, it is imperative that we have regard for all that has gone before and reflect on the reasons we are able to celebrate the reasons for our sustainability and our survival. I believe this is because we promote the values of right against wrong, of ethical behaviour against selfish opportunism, of democracy against tyranny, and law and order against terror. Ownership is a difficult obligation in many senses and I often ask whether it is important if a newspaper is owned locally, nationally or internationally. Does it make a difference? The Bendigo Advertiser, up until recently, was owned by an offshore company. The then major shareholder of that company, News Limited, is an Australian company but largely operates on a world- wide basis out of the United States. On the other hand, Rural Press is Sydney- based and even with the merger with Fairfax Media its shareholders mostly still live in Australia. Fairfax Media owns almost 100 mast- heads in New Zealand. The executives of Fairfax Media and I are of a like mind on this pivotal question. We believe, as publishers, that we have an obligation to make sure that we make the newspapers we own in various com- munities as much a possession of the local communities as is practical and possible. When papers drift --- as, frankly, The Age did in the nineties, in part because local management was not empowered --- the paper can lose its connectedness with the community it serves. The Age, under publisher Don Churchill and editor Andrew Jaspan, and The Sydney Morning Herald, are both gaining strength and circulation under great editors who knows how to connect their papers with their readers. The same pertains to The Canberra Times. We in the media live in fascinating times and frankly I don't believe any of us fully understand where it is all leading. A few years ago the pundits were saying that the internet was going to replace the need for the daily newspaper. Quite clearly this has not occurred and while we should never be complacent, it is difficult to see that this new, sophisti- cated and modern form of communica- tion and technology will do anything other than complement the written word as we know it. It is gratifying therefore to witness the recent growth in paid circulation. We believe this is testimony that we are publishing a newspaper which is attuned to the interests of the community. This is occurring not only in our regional and rural newspapers, which have always had a solid structural foundation to their circulation, but in the big city metropolitan papers as well. I have absolutely no doubt that our mastheads will be successful for many years ahead because they are the authoritative sources of news and information --- and sources of entertainment, and education, and local commerce --- in the communities they serve. Over the past year, there have been two developments that cause me to pause. They reach to the heart of a free press andhowwedoourjob---andhowwecan serve our readers. The first involves the freedom-of-infor- mation laws. The second involves the ability of jour- nalists to protect the identity of sources --- often whistleblowers --- that go to the newspapers because higher authorities are suppressing information about how their agencies are functioning. Our FoI laws were enacted in 1982, and their stated purpose was aimed at extend- ing "as far as possible, the Australian com- munity's right of access to information in the possession of the Commonwealth." Last year, a very important case was de- cided in the High Court --- a decision which I believe has tipped the scales towards secrecy in government. Effectively, the defined position is that when a Minister issues a conclusive certificate that a document should not be made public that decision is effectively beyond appeal. This troubles me. It makes a government decision unre- viewable, and places the Executive beyond accountability of the courts on a fundamen- tal issue. The second issue that concerned me was the case of two journalists from the Herald Sun in Melbourne. On February 20, 2004, they published a story, based on a leaked report from the government proposing to cut $500 million in pensions to war veterans. It was a good story. It was true. JB demands press freedom Fairfax Media director John B. Fairfax is calling for greater vigilance against government secrecy. This is an edited version of a recent address he gave in Melbourne.
August September 2007