Mike Carlton, one of The Sydney Morning Herald’s most popular columnists, has been sacked after refusing to write for this weekend’s edition.

During his breakfast program on Fairfax-owned Radio 2UE this morning, Carlton idly mentioned that he would not be filing to the Herald where journalists are staging a three-day strike.

On hanging up his headphones at 9am, Carlton was phoned by Fairfax group editorial executive Phil McLean who asked whether he would be sending his regular column.

When Carlton said no, McLean reminded Carlton that he was a contributor and that the strike “has nothing to do with you”.

Carlton disagreed saying that he had been a member of the journos’ union for more than 40 years and that he would not contribute to a non-union produced paper.

At this point, McLean reportedly told Carlton that his contributor’s contract was terminated by reason of his failure to file copy.

Carlton’s Saturday column is widely regarded as the “best read” in the weekend edition and every readers’ survey places him at the top of the list of most favored contributors.

He has been a regular columnist for the Herald since returning from a successful career in London commercial radio in the mid-1990s. He now finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being sacked as a contributor to the SMH yet working for a Fairfax-owned radio network. But for how much longer?

Meanwhile, part of the jobs purge at the country’s oldest media group involves the dismantling of the in-house legal unit responsible for reading and checking articles for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review and The Sun-Herald prior to their publication.

The unit has an undisputed wealth of experience in navigating the defamation laws, fighting defamation cases and mediating others.

Solicitor Mark Polden and long-serving legal unit secretary Pat Batistic have been given redundancy while the other member of the legal team, Richard Coleman, has been parachuted into a position with Michael Gill’s business magazine group.

Presumably, Fairfax’s defamation watch will now be out-sourced to Freehills as part of the cost-saving package. What a joke.

Note from the editor: What happens to The Sydney Morning Herald when the journalists go on strike? Open today’s edition and see.

Emblazoned across the front page is the two-deck headline:

“The conservatives who said: NSW is closed for business”

Followed by, “But Iemma will start sale without them” and “Now the state will pay, with interest” ( both on Page 1), “Iemma flicks bypass switch to save sale” (Page 4) and “The power sale: dark days, indeed.” (editorial, Page 12).

Yes, sans journos, Fairfax’s Sydney flagship simply became filled with puff pieces for the Big End of Town to beat up on Barry O’Farrell and the Coalition for failing to support the Labor Government’s ever-changing, farcical plans to privatise electricity.

There was not a single skeptical voice in the SMH’s pages reflecting the fact that between 60 and 80 per cent of the general public oppose the sale (a majority of Herald readers!).

But what do you expect? When bean-counters take over the running of newspapers it is only natural that they should celebrate bean-counting. They’re not interested in jobs, families, public services or public opinion — it’s all about private profit.

Peter Fray

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