Macquarie Bank has finally found a way of playing in the great media ownership sandpit, spending $160 million after the market closed late yesterday to build a 13.8% stake in Southern Cross Broadcasting through its offshoot Macquarie Media.

Macquarie Bank owns around 20% in Macquarie Media Group and yesterday executive chairman Tim Hughes put his foot on Southern Cross, which owns radio stations 2UE, 6PR and 3AW, Channel Nine in Adelaide, Ten stations across regional areas (and Seven in some minor parts), and the country’s biggest TV and film production house, Southern Star (Big Brother).

Other affiliates of Macquarie Bank control SBC shares in sufficient numbers to take the stake to 14.9%, Macquarie Bank said this morning.

Now the likes of Tim Hughes can stand alongside Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Stokes, James Packer, as “media raiders”.

Macquarie Media’s Australian regional radio network is a nice asset, but has been undermined by its “hubbing” approach to news and programming. And a cable TV business in Taiwan doesn’t set the investors’ blood rushing back here in Australia.

But it’s the radio business that has emerged as something of a sore point for Macquarie.

Locals have been upset and politicians made angry to the point where local content rules for regional radio stations were inserted in the same media law changes that will allow Macquarie Media and SBC to merge sometime next year.

Macquarie and other radio operators are trying to get the rules relaxed in a review ordered by the Media Minister, Senator Helen Coonan – but dare she upset Senator Barnaby Joyce or Nationals MHR Paul Neville?

Peter Fray

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