Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood has shot down concerns over mining tycoon Gina Rinehart's refusal to sign the Charter of Editorial Independence, arguing board members are not required to sign it.
Speaking to Fairfax Radio's Brisbane station 4BC yesterday and ABC Radio this morning, Hywood made his first public comments about Rinehart's mission to obtain the deputy chairmanship and two other board seats.
“We welcome Mrs Rinehart onto the register,” Hywood told 4BC. “She's a good, positive investor backing the company.”
In regard to the Charter itself, Hywood told 4BC it is a document that has been misunderstood. “There's misnomer about the charter,” Hywood told 4BC. “No board member has never been required to sign it. Every board member can talk about editorial issues inside board meetings, but that doesn't translate to telling journalists what they can and can't write.”
Rinehart's demands to have a say in editorial content and the hiring and firing of editors have raised significant concerns with journalists and politicians alike, with Labor caucus members calling for Federal ministers to legislate new media controls, a news watchdog and media ownership laws.
The Greens announced on Monday the party is introducing a private member's bill to the Senate this week with the aim of implementing a public interest test when changes in control of major media companies occurs.
Fairfax journalists including David Marr, Kate McClymont, Peter Hartcher and Nick McKenzie have made a video and started a petition alongside the journalists' union to encourage Rinehart to commit to the Charter.
But Rinehart's long-time friend, advertising heavyweight and former Fairfax board member John Singleton, has declared the Charter to be nonsensical and out of date.
“[The charter] was written by Sir Zelman Cowen when I was on the board,” Singleton told ABC Radio last week. “It was just one of the those oil on troubled water things that no one understood. Sir Zelman was very proud of it and the journalists didn't know how to say no to Sir Zelman, even though they don't know what he's talking about.
“If you read it carefully, it's double-Dutch.”
Hywood told 4BC: “The bedrock of the company is editorial independence. It's the way we operate. New perspectives are encouraged ... [but] editorial independence is never in doubt.”
Hywood reiterated his argument to ABC Radio this morning: “There's been a lot of speculation around editorial independence in relation to Fairfax. That will always stay. That is the core of this company.”