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Rinehart’s media ambitions: bad news for coverage of climate change

News that Gina Rinehart has reportedly attained a 12.8% stake in Fairfax Media (and is seeking just under 15%) is bad for the Australian media environment: it potentially puts yet another billionaire in…

There’s not much money in newspapers, but plenty of chances to promote your views. AAP

News that Gina Rinehart has reportedly attained a 12.8% stake in Fairfax Media (and is seeking just under 15%) is bad for the Australian media environment: it potentially puts yet another billionaire in a position to influence what gets published as “news” in this country, and more importantly what doesn’t.

What’s more, it is very, very bad for media coverage of climate change and the physical environment in which we all live. Rinehart is a confirmed opponent of the carbon tax, with a track record of successful activism - upholding the interests of mining billionaires in thwarting the original mining super profits tax and contributing to Rudd’s downfall. Her latest bid signals a growing appetite for political influence.

Fairfax journalists must also be rather worried at the prospect. Her recently acquired directorship on the board of Ten Holdings (with 10% of the company shareholding) reputedly aided the launch of the TV career of tabloid warrior/columnist, Andrew Bolt, providing a soap box for right wing commentary and coalition politicians.

A 10% shareholding in Ten Holdings gained her a place on the board. A similar shareholding in Fairfax Media could do the same trick for her there (though one of Fairfax’s biggest shareholders says it wouldn’t support a board spot), making her the company’s biggest single investor. Fairfax Media has a history of rejecting bids for power by individual directors. But Gina Rinehart’s rapidly growing billions - which look set to make her the world’s richest woman - could be the acid test.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that rich people resent paying tax. But the pathway to media power and political influence that Rinehart is embarking on to remedy this irritant will have serious ramifications for us all.

Opposition treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, says he is “comfortable with the country’s richest person increasing her stake in Fairfax Media”. But many of the public will be feeling decidedly uncomfortable. They have good reason, given Rinehart’s recent activism against both the mining tax and the carbon tax, measures taken by a Labor government in the public interest.

Rinehart’s close relations with Coalition politicians - three of whom accompanied her to a lavish wedding in Hyderabad last year - is further evidence of her aspiration for political influence, if any was needed.

Given the parlous state of print media revenue streams, her bid is certainly not financially motivated. But the additional media power of Fairfax board membership would position Rinehart well to form sweetheart deals for “her lobby group”, Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision . These might include locking in Coalition climate change policy toward a low-to-no-action agenda with taxes on mining magnates reduced or counter balanced in other ways.

The 2011 Lowy Poll indicated that the Australian public is losing conviction that urgent action is needed on anthropogenic climate change. This is even as climate scientists offer evidence that time for remedial action is all but gone.

Adaptation, not mitigation, is now the focus of many government agencies. But this shift seems largely lost on the general public, if the Lowy Poll findings are anything to go by. The passing of the carbon tax should have marked a turning point in the public conversation, moving us all more in the direction of “what” we can do, rather than pointing us in the opposite direction of “why” do anything. Rinehart’s business interests undoubtedly lie with that backwards vision.

That an unelected person can so expediently buy her way into a position of political influence says as much about the shortcomings of our regulation of media ownership as it does about Rinehart’s ambitions. Senator Conroy’s comments regarding the need for a public interest test on media diversity could yet produce some public benefit.

Front-page news coverage of climate change to date has tended to be dominated by politics and controversy rather than by the science or the alternative courses for action. But environmental journalists employed by Fairfax newspapers - businesses that pride themselves on their editorial independence - have consistently reported the broader issues and the ramifications of climate change (though these stories rarely make the front page).

It would be nice to think that public support for Fairfax’s culture of editorial independence will help the company to resist any attempts by Rinehart to call the shots. But it is going to be left to the current board members and senior staff to play that role, an unenviable one by any measure.

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33 Comments sorted by

  1. David Nutzuki

    logged in via Twitter

    The good news is that the occupywallstreet's list of demands surprisingly does not even mention climate change. Perhaps taxing the air we breathe with corporate-run "Carbon Trading Markets" ruled by politicians also taxing the air we breathe wasn't such a good idea after all. Obama hasn't mentioned any "crisis" in his last two state of the union addresses. So ask yourself; why are the tens of thousands of scientists not reacting as their warnings of “crisis” are ignored by the world? Exaggeration…

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  2. Chris Plant

    Engineer

    Hopefully, we will now get a more balacned perspective on climate change rather than the one-sided extreme alarmist views being presented by Fairfax.

    They might actually act as journalists, not as advocates and disciples of a now-moribund belief system.

    They might report on Climategate, on the fraudulent data - deleted, made up, cherry-picked, on the shutting down of dissent, on the failure of all the dire predictions to eventuate etc. Remember the 2 billion climate refugees by 2010, the perpetual drought in Australia and elsewhere, the disappearance of snow, accelerating sea level rises blah blah.

    They might follow the money trail to see who has benefited from this, scare campaign.

    They might actually try and learn some science and realise they have been conned.

    They might realise that the 'concensus' has been confected (not that consensus is relevant in science).

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  3. Marc Hendrickx

    Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

    Here's a thought Mary, if it matters that much, why don't you and a few 1000 concerned others chip in a little cash and buy your own Fairfax stake?
    Or, why not use your entrepreneurial nous to start your own left wing rag? I'm sure the government would make a contribution, just look at how this website is funded, and how it successfully suppresses and controls opinion.

    On the other hand, perhaps Clive Hamilton can arrange for democracy to be suspended, so he can ban Gina and anyone else from owning anything.

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    1. Eric Ireland

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      I think the idea of chipping in to buy a bit of Fairfax is a good idea.

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  4. DavidNutzuki

    logged in via Facebook

    .
    If there were real consequences for you climate change crisis believers issuing these CO2 death warrants to billions of children, none of you remaining doomers would be shooting your mouths off like this.
    Anyone still believing in the CO2 mistake probably has still has a PalmPilot too.

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  5. David Nutzuki

    logged in via Twitter

    Y2Kyoto and CO2-EnvironMENTALism

    ALGORE is my shepherd; I shall not think.
    He maketh me lie down in Greenzi pastures:
    He leadeth me beside the still-freezing waters.
    He selleth my soul for CO2:
    He leadeth me in the paths of self-righteousness for his own sake.
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of reason,
    I will fear no logic: for thou art with me and thinking for me;
    Thy Gore’s family oil fortune and thy 10,000 square Gorey foot mansion, they comfort me.
    Thou preparest a movie in the presence of contradictory evidence:
    Thou anointest mine head with nonsense; my fear runneth over.
    Surely blind faith and hysteria shall follow me all the days of my life:
    and I will dwell in the house of ALGORE forever.

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  6. Lennert Veerman
    Lennert Veerman is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health at University of Queensland

    Good article, Mary. This does not bode well for our global climate, nor for democracy in Australia. Not necessarily because the Fairfax papers will be used as mouthpieces for vested interests, but because of damage to an important source of independent science reporting.

    I doubt Ms Rinehart will shed a tear if she doesn't get any of her money back via share price or dividends.

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    1. Bruce Moon

      Bystander!

      In reply to Lennert Veerman

      Lennert, I disagree with all the points of your first paragraph.

      First, I looked on Mary's Debrett's article as a beat up. It is typical of the Australian journalistic love affair for the Murdoch Mantra (articles need to be written in a way to induce readership, sponsorship and hence profit). Debrett used the increasing shareholding by Rinehart as a means to advance a polemic against capitalist baron influence. While I am not averse to criticising the implications of sectional influences…

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    2. Lennert Veerman
      Lennert Veerman is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Senior Research Fellow, School of Population Health at University of Queensland

      In reply to Bruce Moon

      Bruce, I hope you are right and Ms Rinehart will not influence editorial policy at Fairfax at all.

      But unless you believe Ms Rinehart is investing in Fairfax because she thinks it will benefit her directly in terms of share price and dividends (or to support the papers they publish), the most plausible motive I see is that she does not share your assessment but rather thinks she can exert some kind of influence on the news content that reaches Australians.

      I do share your concern about those annual $200+ million in direct political donations. For me that is part of the same phenomenon of vested interests trying to influence political decision making in a direction that benefits them financially or ideologically. And I worry about how successful they are.

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  7. Gideon Polya

    Sessional Lecturer in Biochemistry for Agricultural Science at La Trobe University

    Excellent article by Dr Mary Debrett. Not surprisingly it has immediately attracted 5 climate change denialist posts, 2 by a person evidently using a nom de plume pejorative of outstanding Canadian environmentalist Professor David Suzuki (Genetics, University of British Columbia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Suzuki ) as well as a photograph of this eminent scientist.

    Australia is a Murdochracy (Big Money buys public perception and votes) and a Lobbyocracy (Big Money buys politicians…

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    1. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Gideon Polya

      What or who is a denialist? Would that be anyone who disagrees with Gideon Polya?

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    2. Troy Barry

      Mechanical Engineer

      In reply to Gideon Polya

      With that Murdoch chip on your shoulder I'd have thought you would be happy to see investment in competition.

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  8. Ken Fabian

    Mr

    I'd hardly have thought it necessary to buy stakes in the media - big mining is becoming such a big purchaser of commodified public opinion via PR, advertising, tankthink and lobbying that the editorial goodwill of commercial media organisations is virtually assured via lucrative commercial arrangements between them, even without it's biggest players using media ownership to make it more certain. But perhaps they believe it will be cheaper.

    The success of ignoring and disbelieving a global problem…

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  9. Peter Lang

    Retired geologist and engineer

    "Rinehart’s media ambitions: bad news for coverage of climate change".

    OK. But it is good news for getting some balance into the Fairfax reporting. Fairfax media are strongly biased to the Labor-Green-Left ideology. They're nearly as bad as the ABC, but nowhere near as bad as "The Conversation".

    Anything we can do to get some balance into the reporting would be a good thing.

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  10. Paul Wilson

    Academic

    Mary
    If the ACF or Greenpeace had purchased the Age you would have no problem.
    Has it occurred to you that the reason for her investment amongst other things is to increase the group's profitability and make some money. Fairfax has been in sad decline for many years because its Board has pursued a narrow editorial agenda which may suit you and your mates but does little to connect with anyone else who votes in elections and who purchase goods and services and so form the basis for advertising revenue. It is what happens when companies lose touch with their market. I suggest you start a company yourself which reflects you own narrow world view and see how you go! It's actually hard taking all the capital risk yourself. Good luck!

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    1. Russell Hamilton

      Librarian

      In reply to Paul Wilson

      "Fairfax has been in sad decline for many years because its Board has pursued a narrow editorial agenda ...."

      Unlike all those other newspapers around the world with booming circulation statistics.

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    2. Beat Odermatt

      Environmental Consultant

      In reply to Paul Wilson

      It is an enormous risk in 2012 to buy into a print media company. Reading a newspaper is like cutting down a tree to read yesterdays bad news.

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  11. David Palmer

    Retired Engineer

    "What’s more, it is very, very bad for media coverage of climate change and the physical environment in which we all live."

    This rather gives the game away doesn't it - the job of The Age's environmental reporters is to back up the global warming dogma according to Mary.

    Well, I suppose we knew that, just as we know The Australian veers in the other direction, so yes, better if Rinehart doesn't get too much of a say.

    What is unconscionable is the public broadcaster's consistent support for the global warming dogma, support which today is looking increasingly threadbare, not just because of the current hiatus in the global temperature upward trend, but the resolution of the emerging world to give their people the kind of life that we in the developed world enjoy.

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  12. Carol Chenco
    Carol Chenco is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Research Officer

    Actually I did buy shares in Fairfax a long time ago - to support balanced news coverage, and I might increase my shares, and although I don't usually vote will be keen to vote 'No' on Gina Rinehart becoming a member of the Fairfax Board.

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  13. Beat Odermatt

    Environmental Consultant

    What evidence have you that Gina Rinehart will influence the independence of the Fairfax media? What evidence is there that any of the journalists at Fairfax ever will lower their professional standards? It seems so easy to insult and slur anybody who dares to question the current political correctness as promoted by Bob Brown. We seem to going back into the Middle Ages when the failure to follow blindly the political correctness was punished by being burnt. I have never met anybody who denies that the atmosphere is warming. I am sure that the majority of people in Australia knows that the carbon tax is totally useless in combating global warming or in providing any positive environmental outcomes. If a tax, such as the carbon tax can only exist by having over 85% of its revenue wasted on administration and “social justice” experiments, then it a “bad tax”.

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  14. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Has Fairfax's coverage of climate change to date been adequate?

    As with all Australian media, it has to date failed miserably in terms of educating its readers on what is, after all, fairly straightforward physics.

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  15. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    Good to see The Conversation maintaining it's customary nanny-state-gone-mad pc-gone-mad stance and preventing any dissent...except...hang on, most of the last dozen posts actually take a different view - what's happened to the censors?

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  16. Carol Chenco
    Carol Chenco is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Research Officer

    To Marc Hendrickx,

    If TC 'successfully suppresses and controls opinion' why is your post still there??

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    1. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Carol Chenco

      When The Con gets around to balancing it climate change coverage, for instance by posting articles by one of a range of dissenting scientists, I'll happily withdraw the accusation.
      If you consider that in publishing my comments The Con achieves balance you are giving me far too much credit.

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    2. David Arthur

      resistance gnome

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Perhaps one of these "dissenting scientists" could draft and submit something?

      What would the disclosure statement say?

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  17. Carol Chenco
    Carol Chenco is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Research Officer

    To Marc Hendrickx,

    My understanding is that scientific rigor is via the peer review process and that is the standard to meet.

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    1. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Carol Chenco

      That's right Carol, which is why The Con's wilful ignorance of papers that paint a non-alarmist picture of future climate change is such a travesty.

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  18. Shirley Birney

    retiree

    Now that Gina has the thoroughly debunked court jester of fake science, one Ian Plimer on her board, what chance Momma Nature? What chance democracy?

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    1. Shirley Birney

      retiree

      In reply to Lennert Veerman

      Well it looks like the ecocidal freaks are hellbent on sabotaging the science on climate and further duping Joe Citizen which could be the worst move they've made so far. A few facts and figures spread around the web may just have them running for cover. Herewith my first contribution in anticipation - a must read, I daresay.

      "Dirty Money":

      http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/matthew-benns/dirty-money-9781742750002.aspx

      Note: One error in the abstract states 4,000 native birds were slaughtered in the lead poisoning of Esperance when in fact 9,500 dead birds were eventually discovered. At least they're the ones we know about, the number published in the parliamentary enquiry of 520 damning pages of how the mining industry operates in this country (and beyond), threatening public health, the environment and our fragile biodiversity.

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  19. Caroline Copley

    student

    Thankyou for pointing out the lack of merit this purchase has for the Australian community. Regarding the comments by Hyde below about narrow interests.....
    Anyone living in Victoria with half a brain cell would understand that Victoria,which has the worst decline in biodiversity according to the national audit in Australia, has been taken over by a property developer (with white shoes) who is on record in Hansard years ago calling for weakening of the planning laws here. In addition the govt…

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