Fairfax journos make appeal to Rinehart

Fairfax journalists have appealed to mining magnate and major shareholder Gina Rinehart to respect their editorial independence if she succeeds in her push to join the company's board.

Senior journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age released the letter, sent to Mrs Rinehart on June 7, at press conferences in Sydney and Melbourne on Tuesday.

The letter notes media reports that Ms Rinehart, who is the world's richest woman courtesy of her mining interests and holds 18.67 per cent of Fairfax, had been refused a board position because she would not sign Fairfax's Charter of Editorial Independence.

"The reports suggesting you might not support the Charter of Editorial Independence have caused considerable disquiet among staff," reads the letter, which was signed by the house committees of the SMH, Age and the Canberra Times.

"We would like you to give us an assurance you do support the principles set out in the Charter of Editorial Independence and, in the event you join the Fairfax board, you will agree to uphold them.

"Such an assurance would go a long way to reassuring the staff who produce the publications in which you have such a substantial investment."

The journalists have not received a reply, prompting their publication of the letter.

The independence charter was created in 1988 and requires that any proprietor allow journalists to report regardless of the political, personal or commercial interests of proprietors, shareholders or board members.

Fairfax newspapers have reported that Mrs Rinehart has asked for three seats on the Fairfax board and the right to make editorial decisions.

However it is believed chairman Roger Corbett was only prepared to offer her two seats, on condition she not interfere in Fairfax newspapers' editorial processes.

Senior Fairfax writer and former Media Watch host David Marr said the board was "100 per cent opposed to a member of the board, or any clique on the board" having their authority to interfere in editorial matters.

"As the board sees it, as I understand, this is not just a matter of the independence charter, but also of the governance principles of the board itself," he told reporters.

"Mrs Rinehart has to agree to those principles, as I understand it, before she can have her seats on the board.

"But as I understand it, she has not agreed to the governance principles of the board or of the independence agreement."

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