Hard News by Russell Brown

120

Strange days for journalism

For this week's final episode of Media7, we had planned a discussion of "the state we're in" in media. We've decided to refine that topic to partially focus on the extraordinary events unfolding across the Tasman at Fairfax, where billionaire Gina Rinehart is seeking control of the group.

Mining magnate Rinehart, who has rapidly increased her stake in Fairfax to 18.6% over the past five months, isn't just any old shareholder. She wants to remake the group's newspapers in her own image and is seeking three seats on the Fairfax board. The principal impediment to that goal is her refusal to sign the board's charter of editorial independence.

A statement she sent to the ABC makes it clear why she does not want to be encumbered by "unsuitable conditions":

It also put Mrs Rinehart's views on a range of subjects, including climate change. ''She remains concerned by the lack of understanding in the media on this issue,'' it said.

''To lessen the fear the media have caused over these issues, Mrs Rinehart suggests that the media should also permit to be published that climate change has been occurring naturally since the earth began, not just the views of the climate extremists. It is a fact that there have been ice ages, then periods of global warming to end the ice ages, and these have occurred naturally, including due to the earth's orbit, and not due to mankind at all.''

The statement spoke glowingly of climate sceptics Ian Plimer, a geologist, and Andrew Bolt, a columnist in Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd.

''Mrs Rinehart admires people like Ian Plimer who have independently chosen on their own accord to stand up against this tidal wave, which has caused fear, and despite substantial attacks by some of the media and extremists.''

To press her case, Rinehart has now threatened to sell off her holding if she does not get her way -- which would undoubtedly see Fairfax shares tank.

It is clear that Rinehart has no interest in journalism. Indeed, as her unauthorised biographer Adele Ferguson says at the 4.45 mark in this video interview:

I think she absolutely dislikes journalists, she doesn't trust them, she holds them in contempt. She thinks most journalists are card-carrying communists. The reason that she's buying into Fairfax is that she thinks Fairfax is a very left-leaning empire -- and she wants to change that.

The damage is building. Yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald's editor Amanda Wilson and editor-in-chief Peter Fray announced to their staff that they were leaving their roles. The editor of the Melbourne Age, Paul Ramadge, announced that he was leaving too.

So far, Fairfax's New Zealand assets -- including the Dominion Post, the Waikato Times and The Press -- have stayed clear of the carnage, but it's hard to imagine that Rinehart would be happy to leave them alone if she got the control she is seeking.

The news is being driven today by last night's ABC Four Corners programme, which you can see here. She comes from a very strange family.

And these are strange days for journalism.

I'll be discussing these developments along with other elements of the national media picture with Tim Pankhurst, Tuanz CEO Paul Brislen and another that we're just confirming now.

NB: Much as I'd like to have you all along to our final recording, I think we're already over capacity. So you might just have to watch it on the telly ...

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