Are the Canberra bureaus of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
about to merge? There’s no issue dearer to the hearts of Fairfax
journalists than the independence of their coverage of national
politics, and this week’s talk of more cost cutting at the beleagrued
publisher has had an immediate impact on staff at The Age, who have hastily reformed their “Independence Committee” – as you can see from the email below.

GENERAL MESSAGE – THE AGE INDEPENDENCE COMMITTEE
The Age Independence Committee has been re-activated. The role of the committee is to protect the integrity and independence of The Age
Charter of Editorial Independence. A quick history lesson. The charter
and the committee were both constituted back in 1988 when British press
tycoon Robert Maxwell made a predatory bid for The Age. With
extraordinary support from eminent citizens and ordinary readers, a
“Maintain Your Age” campaign helped persuade the Federal Government
to thwart the Maxwell threat. The charter, which you will find pinned
to noticeboards, sought to enshrine the ethos of editorial independence
at The Age. It was eventually endorsed by the Fairfax board.
Subsequent chief executives and editors have upheld the charter. At
various times over the years, the committee has been revived to
actively lobby to ensure the charter, and the integrity of the
masthead, are protected. The committee is not an industrial group, and
there is no crossover of membership with the house committee. A group
representing the committee met with Brian Evans and Don Churchill this
afternoon, along with members of the house committee. The interim
committee includes: David Elias, Russell Skelton, Tony Parkinson, Shaun
Carney, John Spooner, Jo Chandler, Pam Bone, Ray Cassin, Barney Zwartz,
Farah Farouque, Sushi Das, Gary Tippet, Greg Baum, Peter Ellingsen,
Bill Birnbauer, Chris Smith, Caroline Jones, John Schauble, Mark
Brolly, Caroline Wilson, Ron Tandberg. We will meet soon and report
back.

What’s this all about? Fairfax journos want to make it quite clear they won’t tolerate any merging of The Age and the SMH.
But with revenue falling and costs already cut to the bone it’s hard to
see where else Evans can find the savings he’ll need to make to impress
the board and shareholders. One to watch.

Peter Fray

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