Aussie journos risk fines over protesting jobs

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Journalists from Fairfax's biggest Australian newspapers continue to risk fines as they strike in protest against plans to move dozens of production jobs offshore.

Staff from publications including The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review walked off the job for 36 hours at 5.30pm (AEST) on Wednesday after learning Fairfax planned to move 66 editorial production jobs from newspapers in Newcastle and Wollongong to New Zealand.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) says the outsourcing of jobs, mostly in sub-editing, means Fairfax is taking cheap shortcuts at the expense of quality journalism.

MEAA Victorian secretary Louise Connor joined about 100 journalists outside Fairfax's Melbourne offices on Thursday.

"Our grave concern is that this company makes the easy decisions to cut costs instead of making the smart decisions to move this company into the new era," Ms Connor told reporters.

Past experience shows Fairfax's cuts are unlikely to achieve its desired outcomes, Ms Connor said.

"Overseas we've seen this sort of thing before, and it's never led to an increase in audience or an increase in revenue," Ms Connor said.

The Age journalist Ben Schneiders said staff were worried about the Fairfax board's lack of employee consultation.

The striking journalists acknowledge they could face fines for taking unprotected action, but the risks were worth it, Mr Schneiders said.

"We understand the risk that we took in walking out, but there's frustration at the decision to outsource jobs," Mr Schneiders said.

About 20 staff joined Marcus Strom, chair of the union house committee, outside Fairfax's Sydney office.

Mr Strom says the company's plan will "rip the heart out" of regional newsrooms as sub-editors' crucial local expertise is lost.

Staff at The Canberra Times are set to follow their interstate colleagues, with more than 50 staff voting unanimously at a 1pm (AEST) meeting on Thursday to stop work until 6am on Friday.

Federal politicians are weighing in, with Nationals deputy leader in the Senate Fiona Nash saying regional areas need locally based journalists.

"I cannot see how people in regional Australia can possibly get the accurate and up-to-date news they need if editorial staff are working thousands of kilometres away," she said in a statement.

Federal opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull says he has sympathy for Fairfax's chief executive Greg Hywood and other newspaper bosses trying to adapt to the digital age.

"It's like having a patient who knows he will die if he doesn't have the surgery, but the question is can he survive the surgery?" he told ABC TV.

Fairfax Media management has expressed disappointment at the journalists' strike action - which is due to end on Friday morning - but says the changes will position the company better to take advantage of opportunities in digital media.

Senior staff and sub-editors at the affected newspapers will negotiate with Fairfax management over the next few days in a bid to find an alternative solution, the MEAA says.

- AAP

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