RIP Independent Journalism Murdoch versus Australia’s Richest Person Gina Reinhardt

The world of newspapers seems to have gone full circle. They have always had the power to topple governments, or at least sway public opinion.  Australia has just taken a step further in that direction.

Australia has two main rival newspaper organisations:  News Limited, part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire, who publish The Australian a national newspaper; and Fairfax Media, whose largest shareholder is now mining magnate Gina Reinhardt. Fairfax publish The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers amongst others.  Gina Reinhardt is Australia’s richest person (and possibly the worlds richest women).  Why invest in an industry that is now barely making money with it’s flagship newspaper, The Age?  The former editor of the Age tells us why in The Conversation.  (The Conversation is a stellar independent news source initially set up using content from Australia’s group of eight universities).  What is written below came through via email on their newsletter. It is not published on the online version (or at least I couldn’t find the link) so I have reproduced it here. Bravely put. It is a matter of national importance:

News of Gina Rinehart’s tilt at Fairfax Media is a circuit breaker in the never-ending story of the media company’s decline.

As a former editor of The Age, one of Fairfax’s prized mastheads, I have spent the day wondering where this might end. Whichever way, it looks bad for quality, independent journalism. This is a defining moment for the kind of Australia we want.

When I arrived in 2004, The Age was earning more than $100 million profit a year, while the Sydney Morning Herald was always just ahead of us. Seven years later, the papers barely make money.
Later in 2007, Fairfax and Rural Press merged into a  $12 billlion behemoth, the biggest in the southern hemisphere. This week it’s valued at a mere $1.7bn, and has become one of the most short-sold stocks on the ASX. No one loves it.  But the papers need to be loved.

And Fairfax’s papers have an awful lot of clout. The combined audience for The Age in print and online is about 1 million readers per day, and the SMH just above. For those who follow these things, that’s higher than for any Channel 7, 9, 10 or ABC news bulletins.  And more importantly, the audience for the Fairfax papers, including The Australian Financial Review, is the influential and affluent “AB” market. For these people, what the Fairfax papers report, matters. Unlike the tabloids read by the bulk of Australians.

The Age, SMH and The Fin, along with The Australian, set Australia’s news agenda and are slavishly followed by the radio talk-back and TV news shows.

So why is Gina Rinehart buying? She has no interest as a shareholder in making money. She wants to buy influence. In 2007 she placed full page ads in The Age and SMH against then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s proposed mining tax. That campaign ended with the removal of Rudd and the collapse of the tax. Now instead of buying pages, she wants to buy the papers.
Such motivation is deep in the Rinehart family genes. In a 1979 polemic called Wake up Australia,  Gina’s father, Lang Hancock argued: “We can change the situation so as to limit the power of government,” before concluding: “it could be broken by obtaining control of the media and then educating the public”.

And on the miners’ right to mine anywhere, he wrote: “Nothing should be sacred from mining whether it’s your ground, my ground, the blackfellow’s ground or anybody else’s. So the question of Aboriginal land rights and things of this nature shouldn’t exist.”

The Murdoch press in Australia is already favourably disposed to the miners and the Minerals Council view of the world. Fairfax provides an alternative view. And one that Gina no doubt wants neutered, silenced or turned around. Perhaps by Gina’s favourite columnist, Andrew Bolt?

Whether Australia retains an independent and semi-pluralist media will become clear within the near future. In the meantime, The Conversation will keep a close eye on this matter of national importance.

Andrew Jaspan

But then, we can always rely on the muppets to take on the news corps.