John Howard’s mogul-friendly media deregulation is already proving to be a disaster for democracy in Western Australia, where the state’s richest citizen is set to seize control of the monopoly daily newspaper to add to his ownership of the most powerful television station.

The last person who tried to do this was Alan Bond, but John Howard clearly thinks there’s no problem in making Kerry Stokes the unelected kingmaker of WA.

Stokes controls about 40% off the Seven Network which last night launched a raid on the WA News share register through Citigroup. Despite wanting 14.9% at $11, Seven finished up spending $192 million buying 8.36% and is chasing more this morning.

As we all know, WA is in the midst of an unprecedented mining boom. Stokes is one of the biggest beneficiaries through his ownership of Westrac, the enormously profitable Caterpillar franchise in WA.

Therefore, don’t expect either Seven News in Perth, which trounces its lame Nine rival, or The West Australian to run a campaign for a carbon tax or emission trading system to help tackle global warming, because Stokes wouldn’t want to see anything get in the way of coal and iron ore mining.

However, there are risks in what Seven is doing, especially given the war that Stokes has engaged in against the Murdoch and Packer families through the C7 court case.

Rupert has a reputation for being brutal with competitors and if he was really upset with Little Kerry, he could turn The Sunday Times into a daily and WA News would instantly see its value plunge.

At the moment, News Ltd sits back and enjoys the large profits that flow from having such a large classified advertising section in a Sunday paper. However, News Ltd spent up big a couple of years back installing a new printing facility for The Sunday Times in Perth so it wouldn’t be such a huge step, especially given the extraordinary growth that WA is enjoying.

Is it any wonder Seven shares plunged 42c to $9.08 this morning?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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