Kerry Stokes first got into the media business back in 1968 when he bought into a local Bunbury television station, partly to protect his shopping centre interests.
Forty years later he’s getting closer to becoming the biggest media mogul left standing in terms of personal dollars invested in Australian media assets.
James Packer’s stake in Consolidated Media Holdings is currently worth $925 million, but Stokes isn’t far behind with a personal investment in Seven Network Ltd worth $886 million.
The recent weakness in the Fairfax share price has dropped the Fairfax brothers down to a 14% stake worth $702 million, whilst Canwest’s $1.21 billion stake in Network Ten is held through a Canadian public company rather than the Asper family personally.
The same goes for the $804 million investment that the Irishman Tony O’Reilly nominally controls in APN News & Media.
The Murdoch family might own $7 billion worth of News Corp stock but when you factor in the family’s 11% economic interest and Australia’s relatively small position in the global empire, the Stokes push on WA News arguably means he has more personally invested in Australian media than Rupert Murdoch.
Of all the media proprietors, Stokes is most passionate about being seen to be non-interventionist.
He blew a gasket at the WA News EGM last Thursday in Perth when I suggested journalists on The West Australian might be tempted to talk up uranium mining if they knew their largest shareholder would benefit through his Caterpillar franchise. Have a listen to the full exchange here.
I copped a strong follow-up call from the billionaire on Friday.
It is true that Stokes was not an interventionist newspaper proprietor? Just ask David Armstrong or Jack Waterford, two of the editors of The Canberra Times during his periods of ownership. A third, Michelle Grattan, might not be so supportive given that Stokes gave her the flick.
Stokes is almost paranoid about being seen to do the right thing. Rather than talk to everyone during the WA News board tilt, he refused to talk to The West Australian and Seven News. After agreeing to an interview with The 7.30 Report, he later pulled out because the story was going to air after the proxy voting deadline.
Much has been made of about the exclusive interview he gave to Dixie Marshall of Channel Nine in Perth. Indeed, Ross Greenwood gave it a big run on Sunday yesterday.
Stokes also remembers individual journalists for the way they treat him. The man who has had the best run out of Stokes during the WA News fracas was The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff, which is interesting given their history.
PBL Media boss John Alexander allegedly encouraged The Bulletin’s then editor Garry Linnell to produce a tough profile of Stokes in 2006. Tabakoff insisted it be fair but this didn’t cut the mustard with Alexander so the story never appeared.
A year later, The Bulletin’s new editor John Lehmann ran a mangled version of the story under Rebecca Urban’s by-line and it read much more like a hatchet job.
Fast forward another year and The Bulletin is closed, Lehmann is a wine salesman in Queensland, Urban writes The Australian’s business gossip column and Tabakoff has been getting great access to the Stokes camp which produced this very interesting feature on Saturday.
*Go here to listen to Kerry Stokes’ 15 minute campaign speech from the WA News EGM last Wednesday.