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Why would you own a newspaper?

Feb 10, 2012

Media Super’s Gerard Noonan talks about Gina Rinehart’s Fairfax ambitions

As circulations plummet and advertising dollars with them, Australia’s richest person and mining magnate Gina Rinehart last week shelled out close to $200 million for a 15 per cent stake in the company and a potential seat on the board.

So what else is she after — influence? Prestige? Or is it some type of twisted vengeance after the Good Weekend ran an unflattering portrait weeks earlier?

Crikey’s Stephen Mayne thinks so.

Former Fairfax stalwart and now chairman of Media Super, Gerard Noonan says traditionally the prestige of owning a newspaper belonged to moneyed families — the Fairfaxes, Murdochs and Packers. There was a sense of a dynasty and prestige, plus the bonus of influencing Australian society and the opportunity to have the ear of government.

So what is RInehart’s motivation?

We know she is opposed to the mining tax, is a climate change sceptic and supports establishment of a northern economic zone with separate labour laws. She funded the recent visit by climate change sceptic Lord Monckton who proposed setting up a Fox style news agency in Australia.

Robert Manne discusses Rinehart’s recent forays into media ownership here.

If she aims to install some right-minded writers on the notoriously independent editorial staff at Fairfax she’ll face stiff opposition from staff. Still, she did have her way at Ten, reportedly pushing and getting a TV program for Andrew Bolt.

Gerard Noonan says the investment is not a financially sound one. Even with Fairfax Digital achieving some success, ad revenues are not the lucrative source they once were.

Alan Kohler predicts, in fact, that the investment could end up being a deeply frustrating experience for Reinhart with an online ad’s average cost at $100 compared with newspaper ads at $1000.

So if not mining magnates, who are potential buyers of newspapers? Could super funds play a role?

“Interesting question,” says Noonan, “because collectively we own $120 billion worth of Australian stock market, that’s about 10 per cent of the market. We could use our collective vote on pay and problems. But as far as wanting to control it, we know better. It’s a troubled industry.”

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