HUNDREDS of people gathered in Newcastle’s Civic Park today in protest against Fairfax Media’s plans to move editorial production jobs from the Newcastle Herald to New Zealand.
State and federal MPs and mayors of all political persuasions joined prominent Hunter academics, sporting, business and community identities at the rally, unanimously calling on Fairfax to reconsider its plans.
A proposal was announced on Tuesday for 41 editorial production positions to be made redundant at the Newcastle Herald and its four community mastheads and moved to New Zealand. A similar plan has been proposed for the Illawarra Mercury.
Employees walked off the job for 36 hours on Wednesday, joined by colleagues at the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Illawarra Mercury and Australian Financial Review. Canberra Times journalists walked out on Thursday.
Labor, Liberal, Green and Independent MPs from throughout the Hunter Region stood together and denounced the Fairfax plans.
‘‘This crosses the political divide,’’ state member for Newcastle Tim Owen told the crowd, estimated to have been up to 1000.
‘‘The Newcastle Herald is rightly one of the best newspapers in Australia. Offshoring it to New Zealand is the most ridiculous thing I have heard.’’
Federal Climate Change Minister and Member for Charlton Greg Combet promised to fight for the Newcastle Herald, while his Newcastle counterpart Sharon Grierson said she would seek further meetings with Fairfax's senior management to reverse the decision.
Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate stood beside his counterparts and representatives from all five of the region’s councils.
‘‘The brand that we know as the Newcastle Herald is a brand that is probably the most important brand in the Hunter Valley, and when we think about that being taken away I become annoyed and frustrated and I know you do as well," Cr Tate said.
‘‘The Herald has been the advocate for the Hunter Valley for over 150 years and if we lose that advocacy we will lose part of our personality, part of our community. We must fight to keep this.’’
Maitland mayor Peter Blackmore conveyed to the crowd a letter from the local government collaborative, Hunter Councils.
‘‘A healthy democracy requires a healthy media,’’ the letter read.
‘‘In the Hunter a healthy democracy requires its print media to be in touch with our region, its people and its issues. By robbing the Newcastle Herald of a large measure of control of its coverage of local stories, Fairfax is weakening its ability to report social, political, economic, and environmental issues that are important to us all.
‘‘Hunter councils respects the contribution the Herald makes, even when that contribution is to hold up local government to intense scrutiny. A fearless media is a good media. By beginning the process of weakening the Herald, Fairfax is beginning the process of downgrading its contribution to our region and our region’s future. We must resist this change and support in any way we can the integrity and strength of this long and essential institution.’’
Prominent Hunter developers Jeff McCloy and Hilton Grugeon also addressed the rally, with Mr Grugeon noting the crowd’s diversity.
‘‘It appears that this issue is concerning everyone from the rabid right to the loony left and everyone in between,’’ he said.
Organisers of the rally, the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, said the rally’s attendance had surpassed all expectations and would convey a strong message to the Fairfax board.
A spokesman for Fairfax Media, Mr Brad Hatch, said the Newcastle Herald and associated publications would remain high-quality and totally connected to the communities they served.
“We agree that the Herald has an important role to play in communities,” he said.
“That won’t change.
“The Herald will still have one of the biggest newsrooms in the region and no reporting or photographic positions are affected by the proposal.
“The local publisher, editor, reporters, photographers and illustrators remain at the heart of the Herald.
“While the proposed changes will necessarily have a substantial impact on our people, Fairfax Media is on a journey of change from a predominantly print business to a predominantly digital business.
“No-one likes difficult decisions but we all have to make them, and the proposal has been made in the interests of ensuring we can remain a strong media voice and a Newcastle employer over the long term.”