With tomorrow’s AGM just a whisker away Fairfax execs are bunkered down at their Pyrmont HQ dreading the trip south to Melbourne’s Crown Casino to meet the great unwashed (Fairfax shareholders).

It comes but once a year but the execs running the company will finally get to front for a litany of disasters and incompetence. As one SMH journo put it, it’s our “annus horribilis”. Nothing to do with journalists of course. The damage has been done through a bumbled reverse takeover by a bunch of unsophisticated, anti-intellectual, cardigan wearing Rural Press managers, aided and abetted by an econocrat Fairfax CEO, coupled with weak corporate leadership in Sydney and Melbourne.

Add to that an out-of-touch Board with no newspaper experience or understanding of journalism and what do you get? A regional monopoly and a one newspaper per town, hill billy model for Australian journalism resulting in the sacking of 550 employees, the slash and burn of editorial resources, cutting services and abolishing essential infrastructure, lowering quality and dudding readers.

Meanwhile, Fairfax executives and Board members gorge themselves on large salaries and cash bonuses while journos are marched out the door and the share price goes into free fall. As they sit in their padded business class seats sipping chardonnay on their way south, we thought we’d suggest a few questions that Fairfax shareholders might want to put to management …

  • Given the performance of Fairfax — the share price has plummeted to a 15-year low — when will the Board, CEO, deputy CEO and executive management resign?
  • Is it true that a handful of Fairfax executives and Board members received salary and cash bonuses in excess of $2 million last financial year? By contrast, is it true the total editorial merit cash bonus pool for 600 Sydney Morning Herald and Age journalists was just $300,000 ? How does the Chairman explain this inequity?
  • Why isn’t the remuneration of The Sydney Morning Herald and Age CEOs – papers which control revenues in excess of $600 million — disclosed in Fairfax’s annual report? Will the Chairman disclose these details including cash bonuses following the sacking of 550 employees at both mastheads?
  • Was an executive share retention scheme – in addition to cash bonuses and salary increases — secretly announced at the end of 2007? Why weren’t shareholders informed about this scheme and what incentives are included in the scheme to reduce costs? Which executives have benefited?
  • Is it correct that the Sydney Morning Herald’s advertising revenue sank by $25 million last year? What cash bonus did SMH CEO Lloyd Whish Wilson receive for this result?
  • Is it correct that Age CEO Don Churchill told managers that The Age is facing a $20 million classifieds black hole over the next three years.  Is it true that The Age has gone backwards by more than $10 million under his leadership while he has received performance bonuses ?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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