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Fairfax accused of forbidding coverage of protest rally as regional Australia faces job cuts

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Photo credit: MEAA

The journalists’ union has accused Fairfax of breaching its own charter of editorial independence by silencing coverage of a rally which saw 200 people demonstrate against planned job cuts by the media company in regional Australia.

Fairfax staff, union members, politicians and residents gathered in Wollongong to protest at the cuts proposed earlier this month by Fairfax’s regional and rural arm, Australian Community Media.

Journalist union the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) say more than 50 per cent of staff at the Illawarra Mercury and its weekly papers – the Wollongong Advertiser, Lake Times, Kiama Independent – will be cut with a total of 17 publications impacted overall.

It is the third round of redundancies at the Mercury in three years.

While stories of the cuts were carried in the Mercury on May 14, it emerged that reporters were allegedly prevented from covering Saturday’s rally following instruction from Fairfax management.

Staff believe the decision breaches the MEAA code of ethics and Fairfax’s own charter of editorial independence which states the “proprietor(s) publicly declare a commitment to the fundamental and longstanding principle of editorial independence”.

It also says the proprietors “acknowledge that journalists, artists and photographers must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members”.

MEAA acting director Katelin McInerney attacked Fairfax for preventing reporters from doing their job.

“This precisely demonstrates the problem with these staff cuts. Here is an important news story that affects the community of Wollongong and yet Fairfax management wants to silence the reporting of this event,” she said.

“That’s what will happen with these staff cuts: if you lose so many reporting staff then you lose the ability to cover news, events and information that are crucial to your community. We call on Fairfax management to observe the principles of editorial independence and allow its reporters to do their jobs, without interference.”

Fairfax had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Steve Jones

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