Remember the moment in the Life of Brian film where the naughty boy who is not the Messiah urges his followers to accept that they are all individuals. “We’re all individuals'” they chant in unison. Then a voice at the back of the crowd speaks up: “I’m not”.
Well, today the Fairfax broadsheets are in the position of that one voice. Or are they?
Today 56 major newspapers around the world ran the same editorial on climate change. This effort was organised by The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. One might see this as an admirable acknowledgement of the special nature of this issue. Or one might see it as an act of imperialism by one of the few media organisations that is looking comparitively good in the new media age.
The justification for the move is carried in this article from The Guardian.
At the end, author Ian Katz makes something of the fact that on his long list of newspapers, the two nations slow to sign up to the Kyoto protocol are not represented. There is no major USA newspaper, and:
Another Kyoto holdout is also unrepresented: both the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age dropped out of the project after climate change convulsed Australian politics, demanding, they felt, a more localised editorial position.
Now, that is a slightly different slant than that given in The Age’s rather strange little article on the Guardian initiative today.
The Age was invited to take part in the global editorial but declined. Editor-in-chief Paul Ramadge said yesterday: ”We applaud The Guardian’s global initiative. At The Age we decided it was important to put our own views – to be consistent and partly because of the nuances of the debate in Australia.’
Now, several things occur to me. First, was it Ramadge’s decision, or a Fairfax Media decision? And if the latter, what does it mean for editorial stances on things such as forthcoming elections? Will we be getting individual lines from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, or will there be a company line?
Second, isn’t rather strange to applaud the initiative on the one hand, but not sign up on the other? Surely it is one or the other. And the truth is that the joint-effort editorial is considerably more strident and greener than the line that Fairfax newspapers have previously endorsed. So is Ramadge signalling a change of attitude? I doubt it. Rather, his comment suggests the matter has not been fully thought through.
Seems to me that two positions are defensible in this: signing up, perhaps with the acknowledgement that this is a departure from usual practice and usual relationships with readers because of the special nature of the issue.
And not signing up, because you either disagree, or because you place a premium on your own voice and your masthead’s unique relationship with the audience.
Seems to me that Fairfax is having a bit both ways.
Finally, while I would agree with the Guardian that this is an issue like few others, I can also well imagine that editors might hesitate to abandon, even for just one day, their right to their own voice. To suggest that failure to participate (or willingness) is related to the attitudes of governments is disingenuous of the Guardian.