When Ron Walker joined the John Fairfax
board in 2002, he resigned from the Liberal Party so he could be a
politically independent director of Australia’s most important and
venerable media empire. But his comments about
the leadership of the Victorian Liberal Party last week show that he
has a lot to learn about managing these perceptions and conflicts,
especially after assuming the chairmanship of Fairfax a few weeks ago.

Former Victorian Premier John Cain summed in up nicely with this letter in The Age yesterday:

Ron Walker’s conflicting roles

Your
newspaper has a bit of a problem with the chairman of the Fairfax board,
Ron Walker. His latest intrusions into Liberal Party politics only
serve to highlight the problem.

Mr Walker seems to regard his
role as being similar to that of Lord Beaverbrook, who ran a media
empire in Britain 80 years ago. Historians report it was Lord
Beaverbrook’s custom to suggest to King George V, who, on the
conservative side of politics, should be called upon to form government.

This
is not an appropriate role for the head of a media corporation in the
year 2005. Mr Walker needs to make up his mind whether he wants to be
king-maker and breaker in the Liberal Party, or head what has been a
fiercely independent media corporation.

Well said –
except that John Cain himself is not so pure when it comes to his
record for defending independent media companies. Former Herald &
Weekly Times CEO John D’Arcy’s little reported book, Media Mayhem: Playing With The Big Boys in Media,
criticises the former Labor premier for not raising a concern when
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp was allowed to buy the HWT in 1987-88,
thereby creating unprecedented concentration of newspaper ownership in
Australia.

Of course, the HWT was known for its conservative
editorial line back then, and Rupert Murdoch was thick as thieves with
the Hawke Labor government. You wouldn’t have thought that after
reading today’s Herald Sun editorial which attacked Bob Hawke
for shedding crocodile tears over workers now when he was responsible
for “decimating the Australian Federation of Air Pilots when the
federation was locked in a pay dispute with the airlines.”

And who then owned 50% of Ansett? News Corporation. Just goes to show the power that comes with owning a vast media empire.