Mining Magnate Gina Rinehart Bids For Editorial Control Of Australia's Fairfax Newspapers

Tue, 2012-06-19 10:20Graham Readfearn
Graham Readfearn's picture

Mining Magnate Gina Rinehart Bids For Editorial Control Of Australia's Fairfax Newspapers

WHEN you think the news stories just aren't going your way - when parts of the media just refuse to tow your particular ideological line - what are your options?

For most people, the choices are limited. You could perhaps write a letter to the editor or maybe even pen an opinion piece or start your own blog.

But if you're the world's richest woman with a penchant for climate science denial and a coal and iron ore empire to maintain, then your options are considerably broader.

This week, the Australian oligarch Gina Rinehart took the logical step for someone with a personal fortune approaching $30 billion and bought the opposition.

The mining magnate now holds 19 per cent of all the shares in Fairfax - the Australian media organisation which owns the country's most respected newspapers the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne) and the Australian Financial Review.

Rinehart has been increasingly vocal in her opposition to taxes on mining and the Labor Government's carbon price legislation, while backing and promoting climate science doubt mongerers - even going as far as to appoint one to the board of two of her companies.

Beyond the publicly-funded ABC, in Australia Fairfax provides the only mainstream centre-left balance to much of the anti-environmental, climate sceptic rhetoric offered by the columnists in the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Ltd papers.

Rinehart is understood to be asking for three seats on the Fairfax board, one of which would likely be taken by her Canadian-born advisor Jack Cowin, the owner of the Hungry Jacks burger franchise who has said that Rinehart should be allowed to help set the group's news agenda. Cowin is also a board member of Channel Ten alongside Rinehart, who owns a near 13 per cent stake in the television network.

Her tilt at Fairfax has prompted a flurry of outrage. Journalists at Fairfax revealed they had written a letter to Rinehart to ask for her assurance that she would sign the company's 20-year-old “Charter of Editorial Independence” which ensures the company's directors don't dictate the news agenda. They have heard nothing back.

The “Charter of Editorial Independence” is signed by the company board and declares journalists should be free to go about their work “fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members.”

Senior Fairfax writer David Marr was under no illusions when he told reporters the charter and its principles were under threat. “It has protected readers, the community and it's also protected the journalists,” he said, “and that is now what is under direct challenge by Ms Rinehart”. Sydney Morning Herald economics editor Ross Gittins hinted he could quit if Rinehart refused to sign the charter.

Former conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser wrote in The Conversation that if politicians still regarded the print media as having an influence on public policy and opinion, then Rinehart's bid would represent “policies sold to the highest bidder”.

So “what can we expect”, asked Fraser, rhetorically. “Policies that will support unbridled profits of great mining enterprises, perhaps policies not far short of those supported by the Tea Party and the Republican right in the United States. If this comes to pass, Australia will be effectively without independent print media.”

Rinehart's move coincides with Fairfax announcing it is to axe 1900 jobs, close printing presses and erect online paywalls in the wake of falling advertising revenues and falling circulation, a phenomenon common to many newspapers currently in circulation in the developed world.

Australia's communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, pointed out there was no law against Rinehart turning Fairfax newspapers into the “mining gazette” but that she should make her intention clear to the company's shareholders. Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan said the unfolding episode was a threat to democracy.

Andrew Jaspan, the managing editor of The Conversation and a former Fairfax editor, spoke to one senior group editor who feared headlines such as “Climate Change Is A Hoax” were just around the corner. The prediction was based on the fact Rinehart recently appointed prominent climate science denier and mining director Professor Ian Plimer to the boards of two of her companies - Roy Hill Holdings and Queensland Coal Investments.

Another of Rinehart's favoured climate science “experts” Lord Christopher Monckton gave an unexpected insight last year into the advice which the mining magnate would have been getting at the time.

Lord Monckton is currently on a Tea Party-sponsored tour of America where he is enthusiastically spreading his denial of the risks of human-caused climate change while questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate.

As revealed on DeSmogBlog, Monckton was filmed in July 2011 speaking to a free market think-tank run by West Australian mining “legend” and Rinehart family friend Ron Manners. At the time, Monckton was in Australia after being invited to deliver a lecture sponsored by Rinehart's mining company Hancock Prospecting - a lecture Rinehart attended. The previous year, she co-sponsored another Lord Monckton speaking tour. It is safe to say that Lord Monckton has Rinehart's ear.

During the speech, Lord Monckton told the boardroom it was time to encourage their “super rich” friends to invest in the media to “capture the high ground” and promote free market ideals and climate scepticism. Sceptic commentators and bloggers could be given a voice, he said. The revelations prompted widespread coverage and a campaign by community advocacy group GetUp!.

Few commentators believe that Rinehart's purchase of shares in Fairfax is a money making venture. Reports that she has asked to be able to influence editorial decisions suggest that instead she wants to buy Fairfax to help her to influence the public discourse. All this, while her company battles to have a mega coal mine approved in Queensland.

Her friend John Singleton, the owner of the popular Macquarie Radio Network, says she should be allowed to hire and fire editors, a move which would contravene the company's editorial charter. Two of Singleton's most popular talkback hosts, Alan Jones and Chris Smith, are both outspoken climate science deniers.

If coverage of the affair on the Fairfax media websites is anything to go by, the editorial staff will not be going down without a fight.

But the newspaper group's proud reputation around the world is staring down a mineshaft. Gina Rinehart has more than enough cash to pay for any damage from the fall.

Comments

This take over and her seeking to shape the public discourse, as well as censor information that doesn't suit her agenda is deplorable.

It's blatantly so, because if she was interested in just profit, or having media in her portfolio mix, then she would acquire shares in slightly more profitable companies like ltd.news, who is aligned with her political beliefs, not that they are going that good either. But a bit better than Fairfax. But no, she is clearly trying to silence the one voice that exposes her agenda to the public and she wants that shut down.

We have seen already on Channel 10 ( the youth network and more likely to attack her) after she bought huge stakes there, that Andrew Bolts denier & right wing T.V show has remained on air, despite appalling ratings that would normally have a showed yanked after a week. But mysteriously, it stays there.......like someone is paying for the loss.

Rhinehart has enough money that she probably doesn't care if Fairfax is completely wound down. It would mean silence to the last voice of opposition, as the ABC has clearly dropped the ball of late.

 

 

 

 

I'm a Melbournian - The Age is my daily paper. I also grew up in the outer suburbs and have lived my entire life in Melbourne. To say Rinehart's takeover of Fairfax feels like an "occupation" may be hyperbole, but that's how it feels. An independent and much needed voice will most likely be silenced.

If Fairfax publications continue to shrink in circulation I'm sure it will be no real loss to Rinehart. Whether its capitulation or destruction of editorial independence the effect will be the same.

How will this play out?

Here's an educated guess:

The change in editorial tone will happen subtly at first so as not to raise too many eyebrows.

Firstly, it will start in the Australian Financial Review (or "AFR", a national business daily) with "balanced" articles on the climate debate and the ruinous cost of mitigation authored by the stable of IPA "fellows". A "wait and see" approach, with writers such as Bjorn Lomborg, Steve McIntyre and other sceptics trained in economics featuring heavily.

The tone will be:

  • "The science is still uncertain thus we need to hold off..."
  • "The climate is changing but not as bad as "experts" contend"
  • "Climate change is an opportunity for a Northern food bowl and oil/gas/mineral exploration and extraction"

The approach will be more sophisticated in order to appeal to the elite business audience the AFR reaches. The same approach Murdoch has taken with the Wall Street Journal.

The Age and Sydney Morning Herald will suffer more, as the new editorial direction will chafe with both readers and journalists/editors. Circulation will plunge to near catastrophic levels as these papers try to compete directly as tabloids with the Herald Sun and Daily Terror.. err Daily Telegraph.

That market is already captured, and it will be impossible to seize a significant base of subscribers. Over the years expect more job cuts and a never ending round of industrial actions by Fairfax staff in a long, bloody but inevitable demise of these two once proud mastheads.

In 2020 The Age will print a final print edition, thanking readers for over a century of patronage. It will include a lovely fold out of iconic front pages from the last 100 years (i.e. man walking moon, end of WW2, Kennedy assassination...)

The Age and SMH may survive as subscription only websites and tablet "apps" with a much more limited based of 40-50,000 subscribers apiece (most likely progressive, middle-to-upper middle class craving quality content reflecting their local culture). It will have much reduced range of content, commentary and journalism. The resources to do the "big" investigative stories won't be available. Lots of stories on celebrity chefs, places to eat and cultural events. They won't make news, but there will be much commentary on news events in op-ed pieces by a stable of very articulate left-of-centre writers.

But Fairfax isn't the only target for conservatives.

When the Liberal/National Party sweep into power in 2013 taking control of both the upper and lower houses they will return to the unfinished business of the Howard government - the culture war against the ABC. Funding cuts, sweeping changes to the board and editorial guidelines. Murdoch papers will cheer along this destruction.

Thus, the culture wars will be over - in Australia at least.

The revolution will be complete: an oligarchy committed to zero regulation, "free market fundamentalism" and a penchant for digging things from the ground will dominate politics, media and business. For a few years these conservative forces - miners, the LNP, the IPA, News Ltd - will bask in a sense of "victory". Their opponents will be scattered, demoralised and ineffective. The resource sector will continue to prosper while state governments strip away "green tape" and open up more public lands to coal mining, fracking and development. Hubris will quickly take hold.

But having lived in denial for so many decades, they will ignore the titanic forces in play. 

In 2050 global average temperature will pass +2c as our business as usual practices push CO2 concentrations past 450ppm .

In this world fires will ravage the state of Victoria while floods devastate food producing regions in NSW and Queensland for the third, fourth or five year in a row. The cost of living will go up. Food will be more expensive. Global trade will contract. Resource extraction won't be the ticket to easy riches.

It will be then the public will cry out in outrage:

"Why weren't we warned?"

Once docile, the pubic will demand anything - nuclear, geoengineering, carbon taxes, energy rationing - to fix climate change immediately!

And they'll ask:

"How could this have happened?"

We will speak of the billionaires who silenced the debate and the multi-nationals who seeded confusion and doubt with their armies of PR hacks, think tanks and politicians bought with donations. We'll show them *our* books, and blog posts and the evidence we've painstakingly collated and say "See. This - this - is how it happened." 

 

[x]

DIE you maggot,” reads one of the hundreds of emails from climate science deniers that have dropped into philosopher Lawrence Torcello’s inbox in recent days.

“Fortunately, your kind will be marched to the wall with all the other leftist detritus,” says another.

Others accuse Torcello, an assistant professor at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of...

read more