Guess which media mogul said these words last Friday?

My Utopian world asks that those we have chosen to govern us, do so for the benefit of us all. Just as we did in the media law changes, we should ask the bureaucrats and OUR politicians to listen to the arguments and then do what is best for Australia. Too often, and perhaps even in this instance, this does not happen and it is one of the many reasons we need a good news and information network to, as Don Chipp so famously said, “keep the bastards honest”… If we are prepared to let newspapers and their opinions and their investigations die, we tap a nail into the coffin of democracy. That’s when terror really will prevail.

These words were spoken at the Rural Press AGM by the Chairman and majority shareholder, good old JB Fairfax AM. He must be feeling gutted at the thought that the company that bears his name, weakened and betrayed repeatedly over the last three decades, may not survive the next few months.

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JB Fairfax has nothing to do with the old family company, of course. He was pushed at the end of the 1980s when young Warwick Fairfax bought out the rest of the family, privatised Fairfax, and sent it broke.

At Rural Press’s AGM, JB had a few words to say about what publishing means – a reminder that for some proprietors it is not only about profits, but public trust.

For each day we publish, we bring a new dimension; we provide new thoughts; we engender disagreement (unintentionally) and debate. We are often a landmine waiting to be stepped on. We are also the hearth rug that provides comfort to individuals and families. We serve communities, which in an era where globalisation has been adopted in a somewhat sycophantic way, is more reflective of our tribal nature. If we neglect our obligations in relation to communities, we become something less than passionate publishers – just another listed company.

The irony is, of course, that Rural Press’s newspapers are not always beacons of investment in editorial quality. They are run on the smell of an oily rag. Some are very good. Some are not. What the company describes as being flexible and responding to local conditions sometimes means allowing mediocre papers in monopoly markets to remain mediocre.

But it’s no secret that JB wants a quality flagship. Whether he is prepared to press management to spend what is necessary to lift the Canberra Times into that position is one of the many unanswered questions about the future of the media in Australia.

Now JB is said to fancy the Australian Financial Review, if Fairfax breaks up and it becomes available. He is known to regret not trying to hang on to it when Young Warwick was rampaging around. But in his speech last Friday he said only that Rural Press was looking at options: “Should an interested party knock on our door we shall more likely open it to those who can add media and professional value rather than simply, financial clout.”

JB Fairfax back in charge of a major media outlet. On the basis of his speech last Friday – if not the quality of all Rural Press’s newspapers – it’s the kind of outcome many of us might dream of.

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Australia has spoken. We want more from the people in power and deserve a media that keeps them on their toes. And thank you, because it’s been made abundantly clear that at Crikey we’re on the right track.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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