Age editor Andrew Jaspan has spent the last few weeks trying to manage away the open rebellion of editorial staff in the wake of last month’s extraordinary unanimous motion accusing him of undermining editorial independence.

Yesterday the Independence Committee tried to bring things back into the open by sending Jaspan the letter below, in which they ping him for trying to divide and rule by discussing the troubles with “select small groups of staff” while “while disparaging the Independence Committee as self-appointed malcontents.”

Management at The Age has been trying to move subtly behind the scenes, while using The Age tapes affair, in which audio of editor Andrew Jaspan being quizzed by his staff was leaked to Crikey, as a reason not to engage formally with the Independence Committee. The line has been no talkies until the committee apologises for the leak. This makes things difficult because the Committee can hardly apologise for something it didn’t do. As we have said numerous times, the Independence Committee was not behind the leak. Nor were any of its members or associates. They were horrified by the leaking and tried to persuade Crikey not to publish the audio.

The result of all this is that some staff have been buttered up in the editor’s office, and others – including the senior and respected journalists most associated with the campaign – have been left out in the cold.

Yet at the same time there is a management response to the concerns of staff. Jaspan’s deputy, Paul Ramadge, has e-mailed all staff announcing that senior editors will “review” the paper’s policies on sponsorships, wraparounds, free trips and the like.

What kind of review is anticipated, we can’t help but wonder? Will the commitment to report the news honestly be up for review? Are we talking compromise on, or claw back, of editorial independence?

The Independence Committee has asked for the terms of reference. “We hope that we all have the same objective at heart – the protection of the Age masthead.”

Meanwhile incidents of concern for those who believe editorial independence is important continue to occur, and are being documented.

The fight isn’t over. Watch this space.

13 May, 2008

Andrew Jaspan
Editor-in-chief
The Age
May 12, 2008

Dear Andrew,

We acknowledge Paul Ramadge’s email to staff, sent Thursday May 7, announcing your decision to delegate to senior editors the task of reviewing the paper’s policies on wraparounds, sponsorships, free trips and special supplements.

We welcome this as a belated response to last month’s staff meeting that condemned unanimously recent developments in which sponsorship and other promotional arrangements were undermining the paper’s editorial independence. The meeting called on management to draft a protocol, in consultation with staff, covering these arrangements that explicitly states they will not entail any suggestion or implication of favourable editorial coverage.

We expect that the reference in Paul Ramadge’s message to staff having an “opportunity to contribute ideas and provide feedback”, will mean staff will be part of the process of the review, and not just recipients of polices once they are drafted by your senior editors. We are keen to know who will be conducting the review and its terms of reference.

The issues that have prompted the review, and which were condemned at the April 10 meeting by 235 editors, reporters, sub-editors, photographers, designers and artists, remain matters of deep concern to staff. Since the meeting, many staff members have spoken to members of the Independence and House Committees both about specific incidents and their general concern.

We note that you have taken the issues raised seriously enough to meet select small groups of editorial staff. However, those meetings appear to have excluded other members of staff which we believe is inappropriate given the overwhelming number who attended the April 10 meeting and supported the motion that was put to them.

These meetings suggest management is seeking to divide staff while disparaging the Independence Committee as self-appointed malcontents.

We understand your distress at the leaking of audio recordings of the staff meeting. The committees responded vigorously and promptly to that leak, and we reiterate that we condemn and deplore the distribution of that material. When made aware that Crikey was in possession of the audio, members of the committees argued strenuously to Crikey that it should not be published. Letters outlining those concerns were sent to Crikey, published on the Independence Committee website (maintainyourage.org) and stated in letters to Mr Churchill and Mr Kirk.

We also wish to stress that, despite suggestions from within management, the staff concerns expressed at the meeting are unrelated to the forthcoming EBA negotiations.

We believe that the best way forward is for management to work with staff to clarify how news editors, reporters and photographers can best guarantee that sponsorships and other commercial arrangements entered into by The Age company do not compromise the objectivity and independence of our journalism. We hope that is the intention of the review that Paul Ramadge has announced.

In that spirit, we will encourage staff to make submissions to the review you have asked senior editors to undertake, once we know who those editors are and their terms of reference. We hope that we all have the same objective at heart – the protection of the Age masthead.

The Independence Committee’s endeavour is to help protect the integrity of the masthead and to protect the editor from being compromised by commercial pressures or corporate interference, as articulated in the Age Charter of Independence. The House Committee endorses the Independence Committee’s charter, but also believes that these issues are of paramount importance to the professionalism and integrity of the newspaper’s journalists.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Chandler,
On behalf of
The Age Independence Committee

Greg Baum
On behalf of
The Age House Committee

cc: David Kirk, Don Churchill

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