The words ‘I’m from Crikey.com.au” did
cause a certain head straightening at the APN News annual meeting in
Sydney yesterday, but they could see I wasn’t Stephen Mayne. So off
into the balance sheet with a question or two about the certainty of
APN’s circulation (the NZ regional papers circulation figures had been
“revised” in accordance with the Australian ABC rules).

There
was a reassurance from chairman James Parkinson that the company’s
circulation figures were good and not open to question. Then a further
question about why the company had lumped higher costs on to
shareholders for another meeting on 2 June to change the company’s
rules to accommodate a buyback announced yesterday. The explanation was
that the company hadn’t seen how the conversion of some convertible
shares would go. Those were issued back in 2001 and the buyback of 10%
of capital will essentially absorb enough pressure from the conversions
to protect the share price and earnings per share. But that could have
been announced in February or March when the results and annual report
were announced.

Another question or three about why an internal
audit manager had been appointed brought an answer that the position
had the power to bypass the board and CEO and report directly to the
audit committee or the chairman. Admirable, but why has it taken a
number of years for this deficiency to be repaired? The answer: well,
the previous position was part-time.

And finally the New Zealand Herald, with a daily circulation of more than 208,000, is a goldmine that makes the Sydney Morning Herald or the Melbourne Age
look like a suburban paper. Auckland has around 1.3 million people,
Melbourne and Sydney have around four million each in the areas the two
papers circulate and more if you consider the size of the populations
of both states.

The SMH has 210,000 Monday to Friday sales. The Age
around 196,000. I know who has the better media property. And to
consider that Fairfax, which has done very well with its New Zealand
paper interests, was under bidder to APN for the assets of Wilson and
Horton back in 2001.

There’s a final irony. The O’Reilly family
interests that control APN were hot to trot for Fairfax during the
great battles of the 90s with the Tourang group of the discredited
Conrad Black. Black won, O’Reilly lost (Black later quit Fairfax and is
now facing massive legal problems, including some involving circulation
rorting in Chicago).

Judging by the performance of the NZ Herald, which will pass the SMH on current trends in a year or so, it’s not hard to see who got the best deal.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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