AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPERS COUNCIL
Australian newspaper proprietors established the Australian Newspapers Conference (ANC) in the mid-1920s. Convening biannually, it considered issues such as advertising rates, cover prices and industrial negotiations. In 1931, a somewhat apprehensive ANC was persuaded by the Australian Association of National Advertisers to set up the Audit Bureau of Circulations; the ANC chairman chaired the board of the new organisation.
In 1940–41, the Menzies Coalition government considered whether to grant Ezra Norton’s Truth & Sportsman Ltd a newsprint licence to publish a new Sydney afternoon newspaper, the Daily Mirror. Although newsprint supplies were critically low because of the need to conserve cargo space for war supplies, the ANC’s dominant figure, Sir Keith Murdoch, could afford at his distance from Sydney to take a philosophical view of the impending Daily Mirror. In early 1941, when the licence was granted, other Australian newspaper proprietors erupted in protest. The ANC was disbanded and replaced by the Australian Newspaper Proprietors’ Association (ANPA), with R.A.G. Henderson elected president.
In September 1942, when the government decided on an additional cut to newsprint supplies of 15 per cent, the ANPA formed a voluntary pool of all newsprint stocks held by its members. The administration of the pool was, predictably, marred by tension amongst members, and Norton’s newspapers noisily, but falsely, alleged that the ANPA enforced a common political and editorial line on members.
However, the ANPA aggressively presented a united front in its campaign for freedom of speech, and against the government’s heavy-handed approach to press censorship. It took the lead in negotiations over the ABC’s establishment of an independent news service, considered issues such as manpower, and established an active advertising and accreditation section. As commercial radio’s share of the advertising market increased, the ANPA published a promotional booklet, 7,480,000 Buyers, and What Buyers! In 1942, the ANPA refused the request from the Australian Journalists’ Association (AJA, now the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) to intervene when a member, Consolidated Press Ltd, demoted, and then dismissed, Leslie Haylen after he won federal Labor pre-selection. However, it convened an emergency meeting to protest against the exclusion of Consolidated Press journalists from federal parliament following a contentious article by Richard Hughes.
Feeling under siege on all fronts, the ANPA viewed with suspicion the AJA’s campaign for a statutory standing committee on ethics. In 1945, the ANPA and the AJA agreed to establish an Australian Newspaper Board to defend the freedom of the press, uphold press standards and advance the professional status of journalists, but it was to achieve little.
In 1947, ACP withdrew from the newsprint pool’s rationing recommendations, describing them as ‘partisan and detrimental’. In February 1948, this company, and others principally connected with the Herald and Weekly Times, formed the breakaway Australian Newspapers Council; John Fairfax & Sons was amongst those groups to stay with the ANPA. At the industrial level, the AJA negotiated separately with both organisations, but the two joined together on matters concerning metropolitan daily newspapers.
On 11–12 November 1948, the breakaway ANC convened, in Melbourne, a conference for newspaper editors, at which academics, lawyers and the American ambassador spoke. However, plans for a permanent editors’ society do not seem to have eventuated. The proprietors’ organisations also served a broader role with, for instance, Eric Kennedy, the ANPA president, heading the publicity sub-committee of the Commonwealth Jubilee Celebrations Council in 1950–51. The ANPA was a vocal critic of a 1953 NSW Labor government’s Bill to compel sources to disclose sources of information exposing council corruption.
Associated Newspapers Ltd withdrew from the ANPA in 1951, and John Fairfax & Sons withdrew shortly before the association was wound up in August 1958. Although the rump of the ANPA joined the ANC in 1958, Fairfax preferred to go its own way. In 1968, the ANC’s president, Rupert Murdoch, also became chairman of the new Media Council of Australia. In 1969, Regional Dailies of Australia Ltd declined an invitation to join the ANC, preferring to retain its independence.
The ANC held a series of conferences focusing on the technicalities of typesetting and layout during the 1960s. In 1975, it resisted plans for the Australian Press Council, but then provided its entitlement of four publisher members until the APC was reconstituted and individual publishers became the nominators of industry members. By 1993, the ANC had been quietly disbanded.
REFs: B. Griffen-Foley, The House of Packer (1999); N. Petersen, News Not Views (1993); G. Souter, Company of Heralds (1981).