News Ltd’s Terry McCrann has today dutifully launched an attack on The Age’s Matthew Ricketson for continuing to predict the new media ownership laws would further cement the power of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer when, in fact, it is Fairfax Media and the Fairfax family itself that has emerged as the new giant on the media scene.

At some levels, this is correct, especially given the PBL sell down of its old media assets. But McCrann seems to have forgotten that News Ltd paid more than $300 million in April to buy FPC’s 65 magazines, newspapers and online properties from the Hannan family in a deal that would have breached the old foreign ownership restrictions. As a 25% shareholder in Foxtel, News Ltd was also party to the recent $2.5 billion-plus offer for Austar, which was rejected.

Sure, Rupert shunned the Ten bidding process, but he did also fleetingly buy a 7.5% stake in Fairfax last year before the Rural Press merger put it beyond the control of any rival.

McCrann also seems miffed that the Herald Sun’s ideological and demographic soul mate in Melbourne, 3AW, will now be controlled by Fairfax, which has paid a frankly ridiculous $150 million-plus for the privilege. Neil Mitchell promises no changes at 3AW yesterday, but presumably his Herald Sun column won’t continue for long.

One thing that the Fairfax papers have not pointed out today is that yesterday’s 13c share slump to $4.55 is a nine-month low. This is simply woeful in a market that has surged 20%, but Rupert is delivering exactly the same performance – News is down another 18c to $26.50 this morning — as his ego drives the financially crazy Dow Jones bid.

At least Rupert is responsible for dropping his family’s net wealth back below $10 billion. Fairfax Chairman Ron “blow out” Walker is continuing his long tradition of spending other people’s money to build personal empires.

Whether it’s the Commonwealth Games, the Melbourne Grand Prix or Melbourne’s Crown Casino, Ron’s record is to go over the top while sod-all of his $300 million personal fortune is at risk. Rather than owning just one million Fairfax shares, Ron should own at least ten million, so that there’s some more financial discipline to doing deals that make him the nominal boss of his old mate Neil Mitchell.

Ron Walker’s history as the most prolific Liberal Party bagman makes him utterly inappropriate to be Fairfax chairman. He should stand aside for John B Fairfax forthwith. John Howard’s new media laws were always about having to ring less people to achieve more influence come election time.

No wonder Howard-backer James Packer declared Ron Walker to be “an inspired choice” as Fairfax chairman. Who needs to buy something if your mate gets up as chairman. Sadly, this was another point missed by McCrann.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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