Quill Award-winning journalist Andra Jackson has launched a massive spray at The Age and its editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge following her sacking in April, claiming she was treated “almost like a criminal” and denied access to her personal property.
The 11-year Age veteran says she was the subject of a deliberate white-anting campaign after suffering from debilitating sleep apnoea and was forced to depart Fairfax’s Media House HQ immediately — despite a proud history of attention-grabbing scoops.
“The week he sacked me, I was on sick leave with a virus and had lost my voice at one stage. I was then treated almost like a criminal, I was ordered to immediately leave the building and hand over my pass. I was not given the opportunity to resign which I believe is a first,” she told Crikey.
Jackson says the company initially promised to return research materials placed in storage following the move from Spencer Street in 2009, but later reneged on the understanding. The edict prevented her from accessing work emails because the computer that housed them “belonged to The Age“.
“I was given no opportunity to claim material that was mine and obtained before or beyond my work for The Age,” she said. “This was all particularly petty, as at the time material was sent to storage, reporters were told they could take their excess files home. In recent years there has been a passing parade of journalists leaving The Age and I am not aware of one person who has been queried on what they took with them. Another first.”
Jackson says Fairfax relied on tenuous evidence that her filed copy contained too many “literals”, despite senior subeditors reassuring her the style errors were nothing out of the ordinary.
“At the time Ramadge began making an issue of my copy, he had just been given a letter from a medical specialist explaining that I had temporary medical problem,” she said. “However he continued to place me under undue stress and scrutiny that made it difficult for me to perform to my best ability.”
She says The Age demanded she submit “word perfect” copy that she should re-check herself before filing, a portent, Jackson says, of the paper’s new outsourced subbing regime.
“It is now obvious that he singled me out as a prelude to the changeover to this new subbing system, as a warning to other reporters that an absolutely ruthless era has been ushered in at The Age,” she said.
Crikey understands Jackson received three formal warnings and that there was significant and ongoing tension with Ramadge well before her eventual sacking. Her case is currently the subject of an unfair dismissal application at Fair Work Australia and is expected to be determined in the next few weeks. One point of contention, that Jackson was paid out based on a working week of four days rather than five, has already been resolved in her favour following the intervention of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
Jackson snagged the Melbourne Press Club’s premier hard-news prize and a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission gong in 2006 for exposing Cornelia Rau’s imprisonment in the Baxter Detention Centre. She also received an award from the Australian Arabic Council for a cracking 2003 yarn on refugee Aladdin Maysara Salem Sisalem, the last man left on Manus Island following the wind-back of John Howard’s Pacific Solution.
Fairfax has come under fire for its human resources practices this year, with newsroom staff remaining aggrieved over the timing of a 10am announcement that about 100 subeditors would be sacked across The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Most of the affected staff were at home at the time and only became aware of their fate through the media.
Jackson’s case comes as the MEAA continues delicate enterprise bargaining negotiations with Fairfax’s metropolitan chief Jack Matthews, with the company so far resisting any substantial pay increases. Fairfax has agreed to let the union rope The Canberra Times into the agreement, but only on the condition it cuts out the Illawarra Mercury and The Herald in Newcastle
Crikey asked Paul Ramadge to respond to each of Jackson’s allegations this morning but we did not hear back before deadline.