Media 'white knight' names her price
MEDIA WHITE knights are rarely as upfront as Australian mining mogul Gina Rinehart. Australia’s richest woman – an iron ore billionaire – bought into the ailing Fairfax media group, spending Aus$86 million for 18.7 per cent of company.
In return, as was revealed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday, she wants representation on the board and direct editorial input.
She emailed ABC: “Unless director positions are offered without unsuitable conditions, Mrs Rinehart is unable to assist Fairfax at this time. HPPL [Hancock Prospecting, her mining company] may hence sell its interest and consider repurchasing at some other time.”
Fairfax had requested that she sign a charter of editorial independence before she was given representation on the board.
That however is not what Rinehart, estimated to be worth Aus$29 billion, and Fairfax’s largest shareholder, is used to hearing.
Flexing her mining-funded media muscles, at the same time as she was buying into Fairfax she upped her stake in television station Network Ten, spending a total of $73 million in return for a 10 per cent stake and, crucially, representation on its board. It is a media grab with a seismic impact.
Fairfax is already struggling and has embarked in on a massive restructuring across its print titles as the news organisation seeks to slim down and adjust to the digital age.
It has cut 1,900 jobs, closed two printing presses and changed its biggest titles, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, to tabloid format. On Monday the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age resigned.
Rinehart’s stakebuilding is causing concern at government level, with the communications minister Stephen Conroy warning her not to breach Fairfax’s charter of editorial independence.
The Australian Greens are considering putting a bill before parliament whereby wealthy individuals would not be permitted to buy large media organisations unless they could prove they were acting in the public interest.
In a further change, with implications for the Australian media landscape, News Corp issued a statement on Tuesday announcing it was “considering a restructuring to separate its business into two distinct publicly traded companies”.
Its film and television businesses – including 20th Century Fox and the Fox broadcasting network – would be grouped in one company.
The other company would hold all News Corp’s publishing interests, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Times, the Sun, the Australian, the New York Post and publisher HarperCollins.