EDITORIAL independence will stay fundamental to Fairfax Media, chief executive Greg Hywood said yesterday.
After weeks of speculation about whether major shareholder Gina Rinehart would agree to editorial independence in her push for board seats, Mr Hywood insisted that it would remain integral to the company.
''We have had a lot of shareholders … over the years and one thing that has never changed is the business model is based on independence. I can say to readers, advertisers and commentators that that was never in doubt and won't be,'' he said.
His remarks follow comments by Mrs Rinehart to the ABC's Four Corners, released on Monday night, that she had hoped to be considered a ''white knight'' by the Fairfax board.
''Unless director positions are offered without unsuitable conditions, Mrs Rinehart is unable to assist Fairfax at this time. [Mrs Rinehart's private company] Hancock Prospecting may hence sell its interest, and may consider repurchasing at some other time.''
Mrs Rinehart's statement was widely interpreted as meaning that the mining magnate would not agree to board protocols in which directors agreed not to interfere with editorial decision-making - apart from their traditional role in approving the appointment of editors.
Her threat to sell her 18.67 per cent stake in Fairfax put the group's share price under further pressure, forcing it to a record low closing price of 55¢, down 2¢.
''There are obviously discussions going on with Mrs Rinehart and the chairman about whether or not she comes on to the board, and that's for them to work through those issues,'' Mr Hywood told The Age.
''The important point around this is that the company remains absolutely committed to editorial independence.''
Mr Hywood said that since the charter of independence was signed in 1992, it had been accepted by all subsequent directors as the ''rules of engagement''.
''It has not been revoked, no one has had to sign it since and no one has been asked to sign it since. It just becomes basically a representation of the way we work, and the way in which we work is really straightforward. Board members say what they like about any issue, editorial or otherwise … but it doesn't mean a board member can then go out and tell a journalist what they can and cannot write.''
Mr Hywood added that editorial independence was '' a promise to readers that we provide a fair-minded approach to what they read that is not the consequence of sectional or personal interests''.
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