Rinehart, who is the richest woman in Asia and Australia, yesterday upped her stake in the publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age and the Australian Financial Review to 19 per cent, as the company slashes 22 per cent of its workforce in a bid to halt sliding revenue and a stock price slump.

In a public letter the newspapers urged Rinehart to sign the company’s charter of editorial independence, for fear it would become “propagandists for the mineral council”.

The letter notes Rinehart, who recently splurged AUD$86m on Fairfax shares, has been refused a board position at the media company because she will not sign the charter.

“The reports suggesting you might not support the Charter of Editorial Independence have caused considerable disquiet among staff,” reads the June 7 letter, which was signed by the house committees of the SMH, Age and the Canberra Times.

“We would like you to give us an assurance you do support the principles set out in the Charter of Editorial Independence and, in the event you join the Fairfax board, you will agree to uphold them.

“Such an assurance would go a long way to reassuring the staff who produce the publications in which you have such a substantial investment.”

The letter, which was published because Rinehart did not reply to private correspondence, comes as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said Rinehart is entitled to turn the Fairfax newspapers into “the mining gazette” but not to “trash” the Fairfax Media brand for other shareholders.

She is said to be eyeing off the deputy chair position on the company’s board, and also wants two board positions for her representatives, including Hungry Jack’s founder Jack Cowin. However, Rinehart is said to be in a war of words with Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett over the company’s direction.

Rinehart, 58, has been vocal in her opposition to taxes on mining profits and carbon emissions. Widening her political clout ought to help her achieve her aim of making the government less involved in the economy.

Fairfax announced yesterday that it would cut 1900 jobs, reduce its flagship broadsheet newspapers in size to tabloid, and close its two major printing presses in Sydney and Melbourne.

One in four editorial positions are under threat in metro newsrooms as its publications move to a digital future.

The company has also indicated it may scrap the printed version of the The Age for an online version.

Fairfax’s printing presses at Tullamarine, which opened in 2003, and Sydney’s Chullora will be closed within two years.

The changes would help to make the company an annual saving of AUD$235 million by 2015.

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