Fired-up Fairfax journalists are recruiting celebrities, sports stars and political heavyweights in their last-ditch battle to force major shareholder Gina Rinehart to commit to refraining from influencing the company’s editorial content if she wins seats on the board.

The Age Independence Committee — led by globe-trotting features scribe Jo Chandler, sports gun Greg Baum and leader writer Ray Cassin — is gathering signatures from high-profile Victorians endorsing the principles outlined in the paper’s fabled Charter of Editorial Independence.

Chandler told Crikey this morning that the list of distinguished supporters — which will include figures from business, sport, politics, and arts and culture — will be released early next week. She says the response from those approached has been “overwhelmingly positive and extremely encouraging”.

“Certainly the energy and vehemence of their responses, and of the wider readership, indicates people really care about what they read in their news,” she said.

However, Chandler & Co. can’t count on support from former Age editor Andrew Jaspan; he says calls for Rinehart to respect the charter are a waste of time.

“The charter enshrines the right of the board to appoint editors,” Jaspan told Crikey. “If Gina Rinehart becomes deputy chairman she will have a big say in hiring and firing the editors who run the mastheads.”

Senior journalists at The Sydney Morning Herald say they haven’t heard of any plans to enlist support from high-profile SMH devotees.

Meanwhile, Melbourne GP Joseph Toscano has launched an even more audacious campaign to stop the Iron Lady from getting her way. The anarchist and Age letters page regular is calling for readers to buy Fairfax shares so they can match Rinehart’s clout in the boardroom (assuming she succeeds in her bid to nab two or three seats).

Toscano says if a million Australians bought around $100 worth of Fairfax shares they would be able to have a significant impact on the future of the Age, SMH and The Australian Financial Review.

“This is something we can do for the cost of three or four packets of cigarettes or a nice dinner out,” he said. “You’re buying shares as an investment in media diversity, not as a financial investment. This is about consumers protecting their patch. We have been like deer in the headlights but we are not powerless.”

Fairfax shares are currently retailing at the bargain basement price of 59 cents a pop.

Left-leaning activist group GetUp! has also been encouraging its 600,000 supporters to flood Fairfax with messages demanding the company maintain its editorial independence.

Peter Fray

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