Media heavyweight John Singleton has declared Fairfax Media's Editorial Charter of Independence as 'out of date' as his friend Gina Rinehart is called on to respect the charter's principles.
Singleton told ABC radio it wasn't essential Rinehart sign the Fairfax charter of editorial independence as it was nonsensical “double-Dutch” written two decades ago.
“[The charter] was written by Sir Zelman Cowen when I was on the board,” Singleton said. “It was just one of the those oil on troubled water things that no-one understood. Sir Zelman was very proud of and the journalists didn't know how to say no to Sir Zelman, even though they don't know what he's talking about.
Rinehart, the publisher's largest shareholder with an 18.7% stake, is seeking three seats on the eight-person board: one for herself, as deputy chairman, and two for supporters she nominates. One seat is pipped to go to Rinehart's fellow Ten Network Holdings director, Hungry Jack's founder Jack Cowin.
Fairfax has been reluctant to grant Rinehart representation on the board as she is demanding influence over editorial content in Fairfax's mastheads, which include The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review and The Age. Rinehart has also reportedly stated an interest in playing a part in the hiring and firing of senior editorial staff.
Singleton said Rinehart's desire to have a say in staffing matters was neither unusual nor destructive. “Editors are in fact hired by the CEO who is hired by the board,” he told the ABC. “Businesses can't be held to ransom by employees, particularly if it means you are going to lose money.”
The Fairfax board, journalists and politicians including Treasurer Wayne Swan and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy are calling for Rinehart to commit to signing the Fairfax Editorial Charter of Independence.
But Singleton added: “Some editorial interference would have made the papers more readable in the past, don't you think?”
Rinehart is yet to comment publicly on the matter.