There’s been plenty of discussion in Crikey about the mystery of why John Howard is expending so much political capital on Senator Coonan’s ho-hum media “reforms”, but it’s missed the appeal of about the only potential upside – neutering Fairfax.

The Fairfax press and the ABC are the remains of major liberal media – the only thorns in the federal government’s political side as the majority of newspapers (News Corp) and magazines (PBL) are conservative and the rest apolitical.

Given long enough in government and yet more colourful board appointments, plus the nit-picking wearing down management, one might suspect that the ABC will eventually be greyed. Even Kerry O’Brien has to retire eventually.

Which leaves Fairfax. Richard Farmer might go a little far in suggesting that the SMH and Age only influence ABC radio announcers, but they also clash with John Howard’s vision of Australia. He could do without their attitude.

The right has been disappointed by the ability of the ABC culture to capture the occasional conservative chairman – McDonald “going native” – and they might well think the same thing of their man Ron Walker at Fairfax. New controlling owners will be more forceful.

One likelihood of the media law reforms is that Fairfax will change by one means or an other. It will either be taken over by an existing conservative force or an apolitical international investor. In either case, the extraordinary editorial independence afforded its scribes will be eroded, if not more blatantly extinguished. And the world will be a little bit safer for conservative politicians.

What was the basis of successful politics? If you see a head, kick it. The proposed media reforms expose Fairfax to the ruck.

Peter Fray

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