The thing about being an editor is that you start off thinking you’re still at heart a journo. Then one day, you realise you’ve become the management.
If my reaction to the sacking of Paddy Manning is anything to go by, it’s happened to me.
From the looks of our comment thread – and indeed the piece we have just cross-posted from the Conversation – I’m in the minority on this one: Of course, Paddy Manning had to be sacked when he wrote an opinion piece for a rival media outlet attacking his own management.
One reason is ethical, the other pragmatic.
First, on the ethics, if you take a salary to write for one company as a full time employee, you shouldn’t also write for one of its rivals.
It would be unethical for a designer for Holden to help out Ford with their new model in the evenings. Similarly, you wouldn’t see Alessandro Del Piero play for Sydney FC on a Saturday, then help out at Melbourne Victory the next week.
We journos are an arrogant bunch, but the same rules do apply to us too.
The other is more pragmatic. It’s not okay to publicly slag off your own company, even if you are a journalist who fancies dropping a truth bomb or two.
That’s not about not having freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequences.
As Paddy Manning has demonstrated, he exercised his right to freedom of expression, and has experienced the consequences.
This is not a whistleblower being punished for exposing wrong-doing. It’s an employee inflicting damage on the people who employ him.
In many ways, it says a lot about the journo-friendly culture at Fairfax that he thought it might be okay. I suspect you wouldn’t find a News Limited journalist under a similar misapprehension.
Where things take an uncomfortable turn though is that Manning is already facing a challenge on another front. As we wrote earlier this month,
Manning is among those journalists facing legal challenges over his coverage of billionaire (and Fairfax Media shareholder) Gina Rinehart. (Update: I was mistaken: Manning’s legal challenge was from mining magnate Nathan Tinkler)
I very much hope that although he has left the company, Fairfax will continue to fight for Manning on this front.
Like most real world situations, this one is messy. Battles with reclusive
bmillionaires are in the public interest, not liking what your bosses are up to, less so. The problem comes when the same person is at the heart of both battles.
Regardless, I don’t think Fairfax had any other choice.