The 2008 version of Who’s Who in Australia features four different blokes called David Evans — but there is a fifth David Evans who really should be in there given his remarkable straddling of the media world.
When Ron Walker ascended to the Fairfax Media chair in 2005, he was lauded by Fairfax’s great rival James Packer as “an inspired choice”.
The Fairfax board had long been populated by directors perceived to be close to its media mogul competitors. Look no further than long-time Murdoch family adviser Mark Burrows and the co-executor of Kerry Packer’s estate, David Gonski.
Gonski departed the Fairfax board voluntarily after a 12-year stint in 2005 whilst Burrows was forced out last year after a 12-year tour of duty for taking a gig advising Lachlan Murdoch in his attempt to buy James Packer’s media rump.
But there is another serving Fairfax director with arguably a much more blatant conflict of interest. Step forward David Evans.
Whilst the latest Fairfax Media annual report provided limited detail on his career, the Village Roadshow version lays it all out far more informatively.
Evans, 68, first rose to prominence as CEO of Channel Nine in Melbourne in the 1980s. He then made his name in the US as CEO of Crown Media Holdings, owner of the Hallmark Channels, and remains a full time executive to this day of New York-based RHI Entertainment.
However, of most significance for Fairfax, Evans is also a former President and chief operating officer of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Television in the US.
The long-standing Murdoch association remains: Evans was appointed a non-executive director of BSkyB in the UK in 2002, a position he still holds seven years later.
Remarkably, there has been no adverse comment in either the Fairfax or News Ltd outlets about the Evans appointment to the Fairfax board in June 2005, just a few weeks before Ron Walker assumed the chairmanship.
However, it was two developments in 2007 which made the Evans spot on the Fairfax board even more untenable.
Firstly, Evans joined the board of Village Roadshow in January 2007. This was followed nine months later when Fairfax teamed up with Macquarie Media to buy Southern Cross Broadcasting and enter the Australian radio industry in a major way.
Almost two years on, we’ve now got a situation where Fairfax and Village Roadshow’s Austereo division are heavy competitors in the radio market — witness the ferocious battle between Tripl eM and 3AW for AFL ratings supremacy in Melbourne.
Yet somehow they can tolerate having a common director. This will be a very interesting issue to raise at both the Village Roadshow and Fairfax AGMs over the coming weeks.
David Evans will no doubt point out that he is not on the Austereo board and he probably leaves the room every time the Village Roadshow board discusses how its radio subsidiary is performing.
Similarly, how on earth can Evans sit on the Fairfax board and discuss whether they co-operate with Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to get the newspaper industry to start charging for web content when he is a director of BSkyB at Rupert Murdoch’s pleasure and has been paid many millions of dollars by Murdoch over the years?
Ron Walker, 70 next month, and Roger Corbett, 67, are the two Fairfax directors seeking new three year terms at the AGM in Sydney on November 10.
While Ron Walker has always had a blind spot for conflict of interest, surely Roger Corbett, who would assume the chairmanship in a flash if Ron fell under the proverbial bus, can see that the Evans position is untenable.
Disclosure: the author is paid to write a weekly business column for the Fairfax websites.