Ever since the mighty Fairfax empire was broken up by Young Warwick and the HWT fell to News Corporation in the late 1980s, the Australian media scene has been dominated by two families – the Murdochs and the Packers.

Any media deal that happens needs to be seen in the context and history of Australia’s two richest and most powerful families. And so it is with the closure of The Bulletin.

Kerry Packer used The Bulletin for political influence and prestige, just like Rupert Murdoch does with The Weekly Standard in Washington. Both magazines lose money but gave their proprietor an important voice in the political debate.

The Bulletin was also a useful way to watch relations between the two families. The magazine produced the following six Murdoch cover stories this century, with the best example of proprietorial power broking being the first, as Media Watch explained at the time:

  • The Murdoch conspiracy – 15 February, 2000
  • Murdoch’s cosmic crunch – 21 August, 2001
  • Inside Murdoch’s battered empire – 26 February, 2002
  • Murdoch’s war plan: exclusive interview – 18 February, 2003
  • Murdoch shock: Rupert’s global empire shudders as son Lachlan calls it quits – 9 August, 2005
  • The future of media: Rupert Murdoch exclusive interview – 14 February, 2006

Interestingly, there hasn’t been a Murdoch cover since the sale to CVC was announced in October 2006 and it’s unlikely there would have been one after last week’s shock announcement that a Lachlan Murdoch consortium was buying 50% of Consolidated Media Holdings.

Lachlan Murdoch yesterday revealed that he personally was offered a chance to buy The Bulletin but declined.

News Ltd, Fairfax, Time Inc and even Crikey proprietor Eric Beecher were also reportedly offered the magazine, when the only realistic buyer is Kerry Stokes – a billionaire who loves cultural icons and would see buying The Bulletin as a major symbolic victory over the Packers after the C7 wars.

The Australian’s John Lyons attacked CVC on the front page today for not even informing Ros Packer about the closure when it really should be James Packer copping it – he’s the person who sold out.

But James is now proposed to be a major business partner of Lachlan Murdoch, whose position is interesting because he would not have wanted to become associated with closing an icon.

So, who do we blame for killing The Bulletin? At the end of the day, Murdochs and Packers are both seen near the body, but the death notice will show it was faceless foreign private equity who turned off the life support.

Peter Fray

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