Thursday, 2 February 2012

Journos go prospecting for insights on the Rinefax

If you ever wanted proof of the continued relevance of the mainstream media, the acquisition of 12 percent of Fairfax Media's shares by mining magnate Gina Rinehart should convince you. There seems little doubt that Rinehart's move is motivated by a desire to influence government policy by working on the opinions of people living in the big cities of Australia's south-east. Fairfax operates two broadsheets here, the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age, among a large number of other media properties.

Since the announcement of the share buy yesterday, these newspapers have published several analyses. You only have to watch the video, featuring the Herald's senior business columnist Adele Ferguson, to get the gist. "There's a lot going on in terms of the mining tax, and the carbon tax," says Ferguson. "And she wants to make sure, given she owns some of the biggest iron ore tenements, that nothing goes wrong in that space."

She goes on to talk about Rinehart's low opinion of journalists, who in Rinehart's mind are "very left-wing", according to Ferguson. "There are a few journalists who she really respects, one of whom is Andrew Bolt," says Ferguson. "Another one is Alan Jones. They are the two people that stand out for her. Just about everybody else, she thinks, are too left-wing and really don't understand the need to push mining forward and give it tax breaks."

In The Age we have a piece by Clive Hamilton, a professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra who stood as a candidate for the Greens in a byelection in the federal seat of Higgins in 2009. Hamilton is equally blunt, saying that "If Gina Rinehart succeeds in getting a controlling interest in Fairfax Media ... the nation's political landscape will be changed." He goes on to list a slew of Rinehart's eminently regrettable policy foibles that reflect views evidently of long duration, since she "dropped out of the University of Sydney claiming the lecturers were communists". Hamilton gives us the names of those she trusts, and they echo ones included by Ferguson: Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones and Ray Hadley and Christopher Monckton and Ian Plimer and Hugh Morgan.
Hugh Morgan is prominent in [a lobby group Rinehart created, Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision]. Morgan used to run Western Mining Corporation, but his enduring legacy is a series of right-wing groups he established or supported, including the H.R. Nicholls Society, which is dedicated to attacking trade unionism and expanding the power of employers.
Since taking a stake in Channel Ten, Rinehart has promoted a TV show for Andrew Bolt and she helped fund Monckton's Australian tour last year. She has used her money to advance her ideological interests and policy preferences. There is no reason why we should imagine that she will not try to do the same in the case of Fairfax.

But investigative journalist Paul Barry says that such fears are at least premature. He was interviewed on the radio by Eleanor Hall for the ABC's The World Today:
She'll definitely get a board position if she has 15 per cent. Whether that will allow her to dictate the policies of the paper I very much doubt, because it's not enough to control the paper. It's got a tradition of independence. It's got a very antsy staff, basically, and I think that she'll find that 15 per cent doesn't buy her what she's after.
She may think 15 per cent is going to buy her all the influence she wants; I would doubt that.

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