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Journalists’ union launches campaign to educate industry about media internship rules

The now deleted SMH internship program announcement.

The now deleted SMH internship program announcement.

The union representing journalists is today launching a new education drive to educate media students and employers of their legal rights and obligations when it comes to internships.

The education drive comes just a day after the Sydney Morning Herald drew fire on social media over its long-running, seven-week unpaid internship program, which launched applications this week and asked for interns who would: “generate original ideas for reports… while meeting daily deadlines for breaking news.”

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) noted that its educational push around internships had been long planned and was not a response to criticism of Fairfax’s internship program but a response to ongoing concerns “that media students and graduates are being exploited as they seek to enter a hyper-competitive industry.”

MEAA media director, Katelin McInerney, said: “Internships have long been recognised as a valuable way for students and graduates to gain meaningful practical experience and training in their chosen career in media, communications and related fields – but they should never be a source of free labour.” 

“Far too often unpaid work is used by media companies to take advantage of young graduates desperate for a foothold in the sector. This is not acceptable.”

MEAA media director - Katelin McInerney

McInerney: “Internships are a valuable experience not a source of free labour”

The MEAA guidelines have been formulated in conjunction with Interns Australia, and notes things such as interns should not replace employees’ work, that the program be tied to an educational program and not last more than one semester and that a letter of recommendation should be provided at the end of the program.

MEAA cited the highly publicised case of Croc Media, which was fined $24,000 in the Federal Court for breaching minimum wage provisions by failing to pay two young interns who worked in its office for 20 months between 2011 and 2013.

“Internships should provide practical, hands-on industry experience in a closely-supervised environment for a finite period of time – not an opportunity for an employer to replace paid workers with unpaid ones,” said McInerney.

“The new guidelines prepared by MEAA are simple to follow and will help define what is an ethical and lawful internship.”

Fairfax Media yesterday deleted the post in question promoting its internship program which comes as the company seeks to sack more than 120 journalist positions across its various metro titles.

The full SMH internship guidelines.

The full SMH internship post.

Many journalists and other social media users questioned the length of the internship and the fact it was unpaid.

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Some of the social media comment on the internship program.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.55.34 am Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.55.54 am A number of major Australian media outlets offer unpaid internships to journalism students.

Fairfax note the intern program has been run over a number of years but did not comment on why it has since deleted the Facebook post promoting the program.

“The intern program is in line with the programs we have run in the past few years, partnering with selected universities that offer journalism degrees which require units of practical newsroom experience,” said a Fairfax spokesman. “The internships count as academic units towards the awarding of the intern’s degree.”

The Victoria and Tasmania regional director for MEAA, Carolyn Dunbar, will be part of a panel discussion on unpaid internships and unpaid work, facilitated by the Young Workers Centre, at Trades Hall in Melbourne tonight.

Nic Christensen 

The MEAA guidelines on interns:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 9.51.26 am

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