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Why does Gina Rinehart want control of Fairfax?

It is elementary that most business investors seek to make money. But Gina Rinehart’s investment in Fairfax is not aimed at a financial return. There are a hundred other, healthier companies where this…

Rinehart will experience push-back from Fairfax staff if she tries to change the paper’s editorial direction. AAP/Julian Smith

It is elementary that most business investors seek to make money. But Gina Rinehart’s investment in Fairfax is not aimed at a financial return. There are a hundred other, healthier companies where this is possible, if that was genuinely her aim. Though she is tight-lipped about her own editorial priorities, there have been enough hints from those close to her to establish the real agenda.

In late 2010 when Rinehart made her first media investment in the Ten Network, her friend, columnist Andrew Bolt, wrote about her motives. He dismissed the idea that she sought to make money. “My strong and not entirely uninformed hunch,” he said, “is that much bigger issues are at play involving our country’s future and threats to wealth we’ve taken for granted”.

The clue, Bolt said, was a statement by Hancock Prospecting that it was interested in the news media “given its importance to the nation’s future”.

Bolt’s column went on. “Rinehart is on a mission. Channel 10 is just the vehicle”. He then pondered her chances of turning Ten into “an Australian Fox News”. Significantly, Bolt’s column is still on the website of Rinehart’s lobby group, Australians for Northern Development and Vision.

The reference to Rupert Murdoch’s right wing Fox News Channel is eerily reminiscent of a statement from British climate “sceptic” Lord Monckton. Monckton toured Australia promoting climate scepticism in 2010 and 2011. Rinehart made a donation to cover part of the 2010 tour and in 2011, Monckton delivered the Lang Hancock Lecture at Notre Dame University, sponsored by Rinehart’s company. Monckton also made a less publicised speech at a seminar sponsored by the Mannkall Economic Education Foundation.

In this speech Monckton discussed strategy for the free market, climate sceptic Right in Australia. He urged those he called “the super rich” to invest in or establish a satellite TV channel, so that people like Andrew Bolt could get more airplay. He lamented that there was no “Australian version of Fox News”. He added: “Frankly whatever you do at a street level - which is what you are talking about here - is not going to have much of an impact compared with capturing an entire news media.”

Capturing an entire news media is what is now happening at Fairfax.

Rinehart’s “mission” can also be deduced from ANDEV, the position papers of which are on her website. ANDEV is a largely a front for the mining industry. Its main policy favours the creation of “Special Economic Zones” which would “secure the lowest possible tax rates for the remote north of Australia”, especially the elimination of any resource tax.

A founding member of ANDEV is John McRobert, a key figure behind Pauline Hanson’s tax policies at the 1998 election. In 2010, Brisbane-based McRobert, who has known Rinehart for 30 years, said that “Gina is deeply concerned about this country and the way it’s going and she wants to have a voice, somehow”. Other supporters of ANDEV include miner Hugh Morgan, a godfather of the New Right in Australia and Professor Ian Plimer, a notable sceptic whom Rinehart has appointed to boards of her companies.

Rinehart’s call for “Special Economic Zones” has also been championed by right wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). The IPA now has a “North Australia Project” which it describes as a “joint project” of ANDEV and the IPA. Its director, John Shipp, echoed Rinehart’s call for the abolition of the mining tax and the carbon tax as well as industrial relations “reform”.

All of this is recognisable as representing the agenda of one side of politics.

The traditional justification for journalism has been that it can act as a watchdog on powerful government and corporations. What is now occurring is that representatives of one of the most powerful sectors in Australian society, the mining industry, are seeking to dominate one of the important accountability mechanisms in a democracy.

None of this means Rinehart will succeed easily. As well as having no background in news media, she will face a journalistic workforce which has a history of pushing back against attempts to interfere with journalism. This is something which the now disgraced Canadian press baron Conrad Black discovered and which young Warwick Fairfax also experienced in his disastrous 1987 privatisation attempt.

Moreover, Fairfax readers have come to expect an intelligent and independent approach to journalism. The imposition of Rinehart’s political priorities will deepen the financial crisis at Fairfax because many readers will simply abandon it. That is why this week Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, warned her not to “trash” the brand of Fairfax, while Malcolm Turnbull has advised her that Fairfax’s business model would be undermined “if Fairfax was seen to be a mouthpiece of Gina Rinehart and a spokesvehicle for the mining industry”.

While many are appalled at Rinehart’s bid for control of Fairfax, some are portraying it as salvation for quality journalism. Tony Abbott’s reaction was: “Good on Gina for being prepared to invest in journalism at a difficult time,”.

It may be good for Tony Abbott, but the Rinehart cure for Fairfax may be worse than the disease.

Join the conversation

27 Comments sorted by

  1. Seán McNally

    Market and Social Researcher at eris strategy

    Unless, conservative leaders challenge Rinehart's control they may find themselves a new master with a voracious appetite for controlling their destiny. If Rinehart and Murdoch push their conservative agendas in different directions then they would be in a worse position than if they had to battle a liberal minded foe as they battle their growing internal factions and competing conservative parties and independents.

    At this point Tony is not showing leadership of his party nor of the country he wishes to govern. The more he delays the less power he will have in the future.

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    1. Timothy Wong

      logged in via email @yahoo.com.au

      In reply to Seán McNally

      As the Republicans said: "We thought we owned Fox News but discovered that Fox News owns us"

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    2. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Timothy Wong

      Tim
      Good comment. You are right, that could well happen here too.
      The broad thread of most comment over the past 3 days or so in the Conversation, once the emotional issue of what she "might" do to enforce an editorial line has died down, has been that ultimately the market will decide. Readers will drift away if it loses its diversity and other on line avenues for opinion will sprout up to replace Fairfax. These will be funded by narrow interest groups and other individuals with personal agendas…

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    3. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Seán McNally

      Since there is no protest at like goings-on over at News Ltd, nor with James Packer's various wheelings and dealings, one must begin to ask why are Jamie's casino interests not cited as cause for concern over his media shareholdings, while Gina's natural resource development interests are presumeably anathema?

      Isn't there far more danger to Australian society from gambling losses than health, welfare and education underwritten by the agriculture and mining sectors? Julia might well argue that…

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  2. Robert Tony Brklje
    Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    The reality here, to be coarse a match for the intent, the bloated buffoon is late to the game . The purpose to corrupt a media source to produce biased content will simply run headlong into the internet. The more lies exposed the more rapidly Fairfax will lose paying readership and the more advertising dollars they will lose, a path to bankruptcy for Fairfax and of course the bloated buffoon will suffer extreme mocking and public ridicule during the whole process.
    Basically she is setting herself up to a target of public attack rather than being a behind the scenes manipulator. The arrogance and power she has in her our boardroom has gone to her head and she now thinks she can transfer that power to controlling the country. Abbott is extremely foolish in thinking he can gain American styled political benefit by tying himself to the bloated buffon, it really is political suicide.

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    1. Mark Matthews

      General Manager

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      Spot on Robert. Yeah we are all a bit sad we will lose the broadsheet, but this will make Gina and Fairfax look foolish in the end.

      If Gina wants people to listen to her, then perhaps she might consider changing her message. Buying the media will not make people sympathetic to her cause if all her cause is to make more and more money. Seriously, does she really think: "Hmmm.. I want to make more money and pay less tax. I will buy into the media and change the message to one that promotes my selfish interests and then everyone will be on my side"

      How stupid does she think we all are.

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    2. Michael Wahren

      Self employed

      In reply to Mark Matthews

      Given were the majority of Australians get there news and current affairs I think she rightly believes the majority of Australians are pretty stupid.

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  3. Dirk Baltzly

    Professor of Philosophy at University of Tasmania

    Remarkable! The plutocracy must be feeling pretty relaxed and comfortable if they are happy to record for posterity their decision to invest in the media infrastructure that they imagine will be needed for manufacturing the consent of the governed. Wonder what Chomsky's reaction to this little episode would be?

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    1. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Dirk Baltzly

      Forget Chomsky: I wonder what Baudrillard's response would have been. We already have the simulation of a free press reporting a simulation of reality: will a Rinehart controlled Fairfax and Ten involve another precession?

      And, (Continental) philosophically speaking is just inevitable, or is this good, not good but not bad, not bad but not good, not bad, bad, or something else.

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  4. David Poynter

    Medical Scientist

    If Fairfax journalists had really presented the resources industries fairly and in unbiased fashion Rhinehardt wouldn't have had to intervene. But the situation has developed where the Green inspired ALP, along with it's PR arm (Fairfax), has destroyed the native forest timber industries, on the way to destroying the fishing industries, plan to shut down the Murray Darling food bowl, plan to destroy the coal industry, and to remove the incentives for miners to invest via the MRRT.
    For years 'The…

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to David Poynter

      It is actually Gina Rinehart. Although given that your post is largely fiction, maybe it is Rhinehardt.

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    2. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to David Poynter

      David,

      I'm curious. I'm curious as to why a medical scientist would hold such passionate views about forestry ... it's all you ever write about here, regardless of the issue or the context... it's all about forestry. And this is the only place you write. In fact there is no record anywhere (other than in the US) of anyone called "David Poynter" in connection with medical research or science.

      There is however a Mark Poynter from the Institute of Foresters of Australia where he acts as the voluntary/honorary media spokesman.

      Any relation?

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    3. Mark Chambers

      Business & Marketing Consultant

      In reply to David Poynter

      David,

      Seemingly, however, you are not opposed to 'your own' emotional and largely baseless 'opinion' pieces being printed ??

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    4. David Poynter

      Medical Scientist

      In reply to Rebecca Moret

      I am thrilled that you think I would 'astroturf', as you put it, using my own surname.
      Unbelievable as it may seem, I am going here under my own name.
      Not having a facebook or twitter account is not I believe unheard of.
      Not being published in esteemed medical journals, despite having graduated with an Applied BSc in Medical Science, admittedly some time ago, would also be unexceptional.

      From a paper entitled Mining and the Conservation Movement, 2003, by Peter Stitt.
      "The mining industry believes that most city journalists take a' green left' approach to environmental issues making it difficult for opposing views to be heard."

      From the Weekend Australian 21-22 July 2007
      Michael Gawenda, former editor-in-chief of 'The Age' described journalists at 'The Age' as mostly having a default position on the political left - they were "pro-environmentalists, pro-feminists and anti-American ... (and) in love with life in the inner city."

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  5. David Poynter

    Medical Scientist

    The Fairfax journalists may well have a history of pushing back against attempts to shape the journalism. But that was then. In the current economic climate, on the east coast, once the sackings begin, staff will meekly standby as their colleagues pack up and leave, thankful in the knowledge that, at least for the time being, they have survived.
    In this era of union impotence, all the current jounalists could be sacked and replaced in a jiffy. Perhaps 457 visas might come into play here also.
    Anyone who has worked in an industry that's been 'rationalized' will know what I'm talking about.

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    1. David Poynter

      Medical Scientist

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      On the contrary, I've got a lot of sympathy for them.

      But they might have to be realistic, they are employees, not employers.

      They cannot dictate the political tone of the paper in total disregard of the wishes of the owner. Ultimeately the worker has to accept who is paying the bills, and his wages, particularly if defying the boss is going to wreck the profitability of the company. I know better than you think how hard this can sometimes be.

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  6. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Interesting editorial, and one that is probably very close to the truth, especially since higher motives than mere profits for the business in question(Fairfax) are mulled over. Though I’m a little surprised the author did not introduce the long time work of the Lavoisier Group, given that most of the identities he spoke of are recognised as paid up members. A pro mining and anti climate vehicle, which more-or-less emulates the tactics of the Tobacco lobby, where hired guns who are supposed experts…

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  7. Suzy Gneist
    Suzy Gneist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Multi-tasker at Graphic Design & Montville Coffee

    If Gina really wants to have a say in the future of this country, there is an existing process for this in a democracy: Stand for parliament and let the people decide if she represents a shared view.
    Buying the media and imposing your views by force on others is not really an honest way to "have your say" - at least not within my ethics.

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    1. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Suzy Gneist

      Well, yes, Suzy. But you could say that of all journos, or corporate board members, or any of us.

      Simply fact is, we have a representative democracy not direct. Not everyone is able to stand for parliament, or should. We've seen enough already of people who thought that's how it works.

      When only one side of a highly polarised partisan and factionalised power lobby decides to take control through deceit, misinformation, backroom deals and worse a politics of fear, anyone has a right to oppose…

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  8. Gil Hardwick

    anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

    Thanks for the clarification, David, though I'm inclined as you'd guess to point out just how much drivel we've had to wade through merely to get to this point, not that I'm inclined to agree with you. Let's get that straight at least.

    What strikes home most forcefully is the stark difference between the way journalists operate and the way a scholarly paper is written. No wonder there is little in the way of communication happening here.

    Among the former, the reader is presented first with…

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  9. Christopher White

    PhD candidate at La Trobe University

    Approved of by Tony Abbott and friend to Andrew Bolt? What more evidence do we need? Rinehart clearly represents one of the biggest dangers to Australian journalism and to the wellfare of the nation generally that has existed for a considerable time. Her efforts to undermine (pun intended) the economic and social stability of this country for her own financial gain must be resisted with full vigour.

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  10. Christopher White

    PhD candidate at La Trobe University

    It's worth a visit to ANDEV's website to see the scale of what is intended. Those articles I have read there are both poorly written and completely lacking in any real content; the only one I found that had any statistical information cited the results of a survey done by the IPA that indicated 52% of Green voters "gave credit" to the mining industry for Australia's prosperity; the phrase "lies, damn lies, and statistics" seems appropriate here.

    Moreover, another article implies that the North…

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  11. Christopher White

    PhD candidate at La Trobe University

    It's worth a visit to ANDEV's website to see the scale of what is intended. Those articles I have read there are both poorly written and completely lacking in any real content; the only one I found that had any statistical information cited the results of a survey done by the IPA that indicated 52% of Green voters "gave credit" to the mining industry for Australia's prosperity; the phrase "lies, damn lies, and statistics" seems appropriate here.

    Moreover, another article implies that the North…

    Read more