Is Gina Rinehart a media dilettante and not the threat that many suppose her to be? Or rather, is she a cheapstake and unwilling to stump up the sort of money (more than $1.7 billion) that would guarantee control of Fairfax by buying it outright?

It seems to be the latter. The business world is littered with wealthy wannabe media players who lost a lot of money, even when they owned some of the businesses outright. Just think of Alan Bond (TV and radio), Warwick Fairfax (newspapers, TV and radio), Frank Lowy (TV), Steve Cosser (TV) and the CVC private equity group (TV). Christopher Skase (TV) was a spectacular loser. John B Fairfax (newspapers and radio) was another who took a large fortune and made it smaller. The late Laurie Connell played a failing part in Warwick Fairfax’s failing takeover of Fairfax back in the 1980s. Macquarie Bank took a lot of money and shrank it in a company now called Southern Cross Media Group by buying into TV and now radio.

It tells you one thing about the media: either you are totally involved, or not at all. “Strategic” shareholdings do not guarantee control and a recalcitrant board leaking against you can corral even the richest of people. Look who succeeded: the Packers and John Singleton (as an investor in TV and owner of radio). Singleton, who is close to Rinehart, is the exception. He knew an awful lot about the media from his time in advertising. Kerry Packer succeeded because he understood the media and had Bond; James found a foreign sucker in CVC. Kerry Stokes has succeeded by being patient.

So far Rinehart’s adventure in the Ten Network has cost her money. If people are worried about the appearance of Andrew Bolt on Ten last year, several months after her move into Ten shares, then they are not looking at the audience data — The Bolt Report was one of the least-watched programs on TV last year. Does anyone seriously think Rinehart will achieve similar success if she tries to dominate Fairfax? One of the reasons Packer and Stokes have been successful is they “hover”; constantly involved in the business on a daily basis. While they have good (top) management, they do not hesitate to offer advice (or demand change) which is based on decades of experience. Both added or continue to add value to their businesses. Is there anything anyone can find in Rinehart’s background that gives you a similar reassurance of value being added to Fairfax? Other shareholders are the ones who stand to lose.

Remember when Stokes tried an assault in 2006-07 and Murdoch bought a blocking stake via the then Goldman Sachs JBWere? The dealings were done with the shares about $5.20 a share. Those were the days. Rinehart is playing around 85-90 cents a share. That’s a big message to her (and other investors) — Fairfax is on its last legs. You can buy on the way down when a company is dying and can’t be revived. 

Peter Fray

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