How shortsighted can a media organisation be? Just as the North Asian region explodes over the front pages, the news is out that Fairfax has decided to close its Tokyo bureau at the end of this year.

The current correspondent, Deborah Cameron, is expected back in the country after Christmas and will not be replaced. This will leave The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald dependent on international wire services and perhaps yet to be identified freelancers to cover the region that includes direct threats to Australia’s security, as well as our top three trading partners and an increasingly important source of popular culture.

How on earth does Fairfax plan to cover the complexities of the region from an Australian point of view without a dedicated staff member on the ground? Quite apart from the Korean situation, there is also a new right wing Prime Minister in Japan, and numerous trends of intense and immediate significance for Australia’s future.

The Fairfax board will shortly be in receipt of a stinging letter from academics specialising in the region, coordinated by Professor Kent Anderson, head of the Japan Centre at the Australian National University.

Why does he think closing the bureau would be a bad thing? Anderson almost laughs. “Look at the front pages of this morning’s newspaper,” he says. “You can’t get much more obvious than that! I am really very upset about this. I hope that comes through.”

The business community is also understood to be mobilising to pressure the Fairfax board to reverse the decision.

The decision to close the bureau is reportedly being driven by the editors of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, Alan Oakley and Andrew Jaspan respectively. The rationale given for the move inside Fairfax is the need to concentrate on the Middle East.

But some insiders suspect that lack of interest in the region from the British born editors has more to do with it. “I think they still think of it as the Far East,” one insider said.

When Cameron departs, only Peter Alford for News Limited and Shane McLeod for the ABC will remain as Australian correspondents on Japan and the Korean peninsula. Anderson fears that Alford too might be withdrawn once competition from Fairfax has been removed.

Alan Oakley did not return a call asking for comment yesterday.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW