There’s an intense debate about the future of journalism and newspapers vibrating across the Australian media — except in the media owned by the company which ignited the debate in the first place.

It may be an important Australian societal issue, but don’t expect to read thoughtful op-ed pieces or backgrounders or analysis or editorials about the impact of Fairfax’s downsizing in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Financial Review or The Canberra Times.

There is a distinct odor of internal censorship on this subject inside the Fairfax quality newspapers. All four papers have meticulously limited their coverage of this issue to basic news stories and, with the exception of two short letters to the editor in The SMH today, not a word on the op-ed pages or in editorials.

Which is in stark contrast to the extensive coverage given by Fairfax mastheads to other arguably less important media and journalism issues, like Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, the trevails of The New York Times or the internal machinations at West Australian Newspapers — none of which were in Fairfax’s own backyard or remotely as relevant to its own readership.

If this were an unfolding story about almost any other issue of national significance, especially one which touched issues affecting major cultural institutions, politics, power and the flow of information in the democratic mix, the Fairfax “serious” newspapers would have been all over it, especially in their opinion and analysis pages. As the ABC and other newspapers have been in recent days.

The Chinese-style approach to covering sensitive issues within its own orbit suggests that, inside the Fairfax politburo, the pincer attack on fearless and independent journalism isn’t confined to sacking staff. It is editorial as well as commercial — which just proves the whole point.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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