October 20, 2006

Australia's Fourth Estate Sold Off

Thanks to new government laws, the Australian media landscape now looks like a feeding-frenzy of rich and greedy piranhas. As Crikey puts it:
The PM’s interview on AM this morning was just laughable and his government is clearly embarrassed.

For starters, the PBL Media deal with CVC Asia Pacific is deliberately structured to get around the current laws through the use of a $982 million convertible note.

Once the foreign ownership restrictions on television licences are lifted when the new laws come into effect early next year, this note will convert into a 50% equity stake in PBL Media that would be unlawful today.

The Seven Network raid on WA News is a little different in that Kerry Stokes could indeed have bought 14.9% of the company at any point over the past 20 years.

However, the key point is that he never bothered because the law would have forced him to sell Seven in Perth if he wanted to go any higher or gain board representation. Why would Stokes want to sit there with an utterly powerless passive stake?

The whole point of buying into WA News is that he’ll move to take it over next and integrate the paper with his Seven news service in WA whilst becoming the king of Perth. Stokes’s old business partner Jack Bendat had no doubt about the game plan in The Australian this morning.

Therefore, these two deals have both happened precisely because of the new laws, yet the PM’s defence is to claim it has nothing to do with them.
To put it in perspective:
No-one should care particularly about diversity of ownership of sitcoms, soapies, music or popular entertainment. What they should care about is diversity of ownership of news, ideas and opinions.
Now Australia's two best newspapers - the SMH and the Age - are set to be bought out by the devil himself, Rupert Murdoch:
A MYSTERY buyer, believed to be Rupert Murdoch, last night splurged $364 million on a large parcel of John Fairfax Holdings shares at a huge premium to yesterday's closing price.

The off-market purchase, representing about 7.5 per cent of Fairfax, was co-ordinated through investment bank Goldman Sachs, recently hired by News Corporation to advise on possible media industry opportunities that may arise from this week's Federal Government changes to media ownership laws.

More than 70 million shares were bought at $5.20, a big premium to yesterday's closing price of $4.74.

A source close to the transaction confirmed the parcel was bought by a corporation and not a funds manager or private equity group.
Where I live on Queensland's Gold Coast, all three of the available papers are already Murdoch-owned. Just remember, folks, this man is a professed Zionist war-monger who hand-picks the leaders of Australia, Britain and (to a growing extent) the USA.

Having said that, the prospect of selling these papers to private equity firms is not much better. How about a campaign for public ownership - say via getup.org?

UPDATE: From Stephen Mayne at Crikey:
Rupert’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch, first started out in journalism as Malvern correspondent for The Age in 1903. Add to this the fierce rivalry between Fairfax and Murdoch family interests for 70 years and it is not surprising that Rupert has launched what looks like a sentimental raid.

Rupert would love to cap his extraordinary career by owning The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald -- and this would be no problem if he flipped the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph into the new PBL Media vehicle.

One joker in the pack here could be Lachlan Murdoch. Rupert would love him to re-join News Corp but Sydney-based Lachlan could emerge as a stand-alone player or he could be flicked some assets in the carve-up to either run or own.

There will be endless scenarios played out over the coming months – does Rural Press want the regional papers, who gets the internet properties, how would a Packer-owned AFR cover PBL -- but the bottom line is that the once great independent media company John Fairfax probably won’t exist by April Fool’s Day next year.

And that will be a sad thing for Australia’s democracy – particularly if the carve-up is conceived and directed by Australia’s two richest families in concert with the utterly inappropriate Fairfax chairman, Ron Walker.


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