01 August 2013


The following item appeared in The Age newspaper on Monday 29 July 2013:

Because it is not easy to read from the scanned copy, I am retyping it so that it is clearly legible and able to be interpreted:

The greatest compliment a fiercely independent media organisation can receive is condemnation from those who fear free speech and unfailing scrutiny of the rich and powerful.

So the Herald humbly welcomes the hubris and triumphalism of James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch this week at the launch of the book Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch and the Ultimate Revenge.

In doing so we do not accept their false premises that the company which has funded the Herald'squality journalism for so long is dying, nor that this pair of moguls' sons can claim credit for any problems Fairfax has faced.

Rather, we see the premature exaltation of Packer and Murdoch as proof certain that the Herald and its stablemates are doing just as they always have. And that is fulfilling a critical democratic duty, without fear or favour, without regard to commercial self-interest. With respect, what an affront it surely is to all Australians for Packer and Murdoch to rejoice over threats to quality journalism.

For 182 years the Herald has exposed corruption, protected the vulnerable, pursued growth for all and embraced an optimistic vision for the nation based on a contest of ideas. That Packer and Murdoch can gloat over any potential reduction in media diversity reflects poorly on them, thereby highlighting the importance of ensuring Fairfax's journalism survives.

And it will survive, funded by a new, sustainable business model to replace what were once, indeed, rivers of gold. Technological advances in the past two decades have forced Fairfax and other newspaper companies to change as those lucrative classified advertising revenues slowed sharply and shifted to online outfits.

Packer and Murdoch rode by chance with some of them, gambling that they could cash in and wreak delicious revenge against Fairfax for daring to expose their families' power and behaviour to unwanted scrutiny. "You'd have to say they've got thin skins," was the conclusion of Killing Fairfax author Pam Williams - tellingly, a Fairfax employee.

With glasses raised in toast this week, Packer said: "Fairfax didn't see any of this coming. They thought it was all beneath them.They thought we were idiots. You know, I think we killed Fairfax." Murdoch responded: "I think so."

For the sake of those who value democracy and a proudly Australian voice, let's hope not. Fairfax made mistakes along the way. No one in the myriad media organisations that have vanished or struggled can deny that. But Fairfax survives.

With respect, Packer left the media because the power his family sought through it was evaporating and money mattered too much. With respect, the Murdoch empire has relied on global film revenue to fund its news media, will rely on TV revenue in future and has used phone hacking to seek a commercial advantage.

By contrast, Fairfax is developing a business model that can ensure the Herald serves the Australian public with independent journalism for 182 years. That Williams can write a book which exposes her employer to cheap shots from rivals says a lot about editorial independence.

Contrast this to the Murdoch emprie's rejection of internal dissent and insistence on groupthink, to Kerry Packer's intolerance of criticism and his son's "hatred, hatred, hatred, hatred" outburst in describing his motivations against Fairfax. Contrast it to the Herald's ability to give credit to where it is due and play every issue on its merits.

To the chagrin of Packer and Murdoch, the Herald's team of fearless journalists remains a thorn in the side; a check and balance on the extremes of power; a challenge to the cosy status quo; a rival that cannot be paid off; in essence that most dangerous of ideas, free speech in pursuit of the public interest.

Kate McClymont, Adele Ferguson, Linton Besser, Peter Hartcher and so many more - let no businessman or politician say their work and that of countless other Fairfax journalists has not made this country a better and more civilised place.

The Herald believes Australians will always value quality journalism and keep supporting a business that has a long record of delivering it. While you can now access the Herald's journalism in many ways, the core promise has not changed.

And you still have a choice about what sort of country Australia should be. It can be one where the commercial interests of Packer and Murdoch prevail, self-satisfied and free of scrutiny. The other is one where, as the first Herald editorial said in 1831, editorial management of newspapers is conducted upon principles of candour, honesty and honour. Where respect and deference are paid to all classes. Freedom of thinking. No wish to mislead. No interests to gratify. Dissent with respect, to establish a principle.

By these sentiments we shall be guided, and, whether friends or foes, by these we shall judge others, we have a right, therefore, to expect by these we shall be judged.

We will not let negative judgements of the past distort our view of a future which, with the collective efforts of everyone at Fairfax on behalf of our loyal readers and shareholders, is destined to be a bright one.

Greg Hywood
CEO & Managing Director
Fairfax Media

....................and now the open letter:

Dear Mr Hywood,

I would like to start at the end by commenting on your choice of journalists' names whose praises you are singing and would suggest that at least one of them, who was associated with reporting on the Wood Royal Commission all those years ago in New South Wales, showed the SMH's prejudices and biases by reportage which was so one-sided and shocking that it caused several problems for many of the people who had appeared before the Commission.

Much more recently, one of your most senior and respected journalists was guilty of the most outrageous bias and exaggeration in her reportings about the first female prime minister in Australia's history. Fairfax reporting over this unfortunate period of our political scene in the last few years showed bias that even Rupert Murdoch would have been proud of!

There have been topics in recent times which Fairfax media have dealt with which were to the right of Genghis Khan and competed favourably (sic) with some of the worst reactionary papers in the country.

Those of us who have for many years endeavoured to write letters to the SMH and The Age on controversial topics have been totally ignored, while some of the favourite letter-writers of the current letters editor received favourable treatment and regular letters by them appeared in the papers.

Oh, and did I mention that Israel is the "holy grail" while Palestine doesn't exist?

While it is acknowledged the paper has always had limited room available to publish letters from its hundreds of correspondents, one has always felt that to exclude those we have written on a regular basis shows a bias without equal.

Fairfax media have not gone downhill just because of online development, they have gone downhill because people who read newspapers and are hoping to read those which don't always without variation reflect the views of right-wing reactionary religious bigots in the communities expected Fairfax papers to present views which are not extreme at the far right end of the spectrum, and would here and there represent other views than just those of one or both of the mainstream parliamentary parties.

People like Amanda Vanstone and Nicolle Flint have no place in the Fairfax media for their reactionary stance on so many issues and Flint, who is doing a PhD on environmentalism and Australian farmers is obviously unworthy of such a qualification if her article headed "Anti-GM attitudes are harming the hungry" is an example of her ignorance and blindness in relation to the outcry internationally against GMOs and the firms guilty of propagating their spread.

Have others had a look in on Fairfax media - such as those who have other views on GMOs? If so, we have found it difficult to find.

Fairfax has seldom shown enough bravery and fortitude to fight the establishment on issues which groups in the community have found little place for their voices to be heard - where, for instance, is the Fairfax outcry in Victoria over the issue of public transport versus the road and petrol lobbies? Where has Fairfax been over issues such as labelling of genetically modified foods in our supermarkets?

Where has Fairfax been when certain Australian citizens have had problems overseas and the government and opposition have refused to help them? Where is Fairfax over the issue of asylum seekers and human rights abuses?

These are a few modern examples, but we can go back a few decades when Fairfax's stand on issues of gay rights and AIDS "victims" showed ongoing prejudice and bias some of which still exists to this day!

And I would guarantee that an open letter such as this would not see the light of day in your prejudiced and closed 21st century Fairfax newspapers.

There are many of us who wouldn't buy a Murdoch paper if they were the only ones available, and there are many of us who feel that the alternative we have been seeking has progressively (sic) been letting us down more and more for the last 30 years.

Fortunately for those of us brought up on newspapers and controversy, now totally lacking in Fairfax, we have access to the internet where we get the news which Fairfax should be printing in its media.

The bottom fell out of Fairfax shares over the last 5 years and if Gina Rinehart gets control of more and more shares in Fairfax, she will probably endeavour to shut it down altogether.

Is this the police state of media that we would like in this country? I don't think so!

And finally, this letter in the Sunday Age of 4 August 2013 encapsulates the Fairfax problems in a nutshell:

Not in our name

I searched and searched for a report of the 5000 people in the streets of Melbourne on Saturday July 27 protesting against Kevin Rudd's refusal to honour our commitment to compassion for those displaced from their countries by terror. Nothing. Keep your ear closer to the ground - the people of Melbourne are saying ''not in our name''.


Following the announcement of the federal election taking place on 7 September 2013, the papers started filling up with the usual nonsense from editors and hacks on the two main sides of politics. Fortunately for the sanity of some of us, this letter found its way into publication in The Age on 6 August 2013 and says it ALL!:

Live up to your promise, editors

Monday's editorial said all the right things about The Age wanting to provide readers with informed analysis of the issues. Could you start by scrapping the regular columns of blinkered, anti-Labor, pro-Liberal barracking from Amanda Vanstone and Nicolle Flint? I don't want you to ''balance'' their diatribes with equally biased commentary from Labor hacks - not that I recall you trying to do so. Just report the news, and back it up with balanced, objective, rational commentary from people who know how to analyse the issues.

Adrian Jackson, Blackburn South

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm