By Dr George Venturini*
Testing the thesis … A controlled mass media (continued)
Most of the other newspapers are controlled by Fairfax Media Limited, which is one of the largest media companies in Australia and New Zealand, with investment in newspaper, magazines, radio and internet. There is a sizeable foreign participation.
Fairfax has a portfolio of leading online products, including the digital news brands SMH.com.au in Australia and Stuff.co.nz in New Zealand. The group also has leading online marketplaces including Domain.com.au for real estate and Drive.com.au for motors.
The Fairfax divisions in Australia cover: Australia Media, which includes national brands The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review and metropolitan titles The Age in Melbourne and The Canberra Times; Life Media and Events, which is a major events business and owner of Australian lifestyle brands including ‘Goodfood’; ‘Executive Style’; ‘Essential Kids’; ‘Essential Baby’ and ‘Traveller’. This also includes Fairfax’s joint venture ‘Drive’, an online motors portal; Domain Group: a digital real estate business containing Domain.com.au, online property portal, APM Pricefinder, a property data business and MyDesktop, a SaaS platform for the real estate sector; Digital Ventures which encompasses digital publisher Allure Media, and partnerships with Huffington Post for HuffPost Australia and Nine Entertainment Co. for Stan, the video streaming service.
In 2012 mining billionaire Gina Rinehart – then the wealthiest person in Australia, became Fairfax’s biggest shareholder, purchasing a 14 per cent stake in the company. Rinehart also sought a position on the Fairfax board. By June 2012 Rinehart had increased her stake in Fairfax Media to 18.67 per cent, and was believed to be seeking three board seats and involvement in editorial decisions. There were reports that Rinehart sought to increase her total share to 19.99 per cent, the maximum allowed before a takeover offer must be made. But provisions in Fairfax Media’s insurance policy denied cover for directors owning more than 15 per cent, so Rinehart had to sell down to 14.99 per cent. Rinehart was denied a place on the board because she would not agree to Fairfax’s charter of independence, and sold her stake in 2015.
On 18 June 2012, as part of evolving to a sustainable model for its news media business, Fairfax Media announced it would cut 1,900 staff and begin to erect digital pay-walls around its two main metropolitan news brands, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. It also announced it was shifting to ‘compact’ or tabloid-sized editions of the broadsheet newspapers from March 2013, and that its two printing facilities at Chullora and Tullamarine would close. The changes, prompted by shrinking advertising revenue, were expected to generate AU$ 235 million in annual savings over three years.
In 2012 Fairfax Media acquired Netus Pty Ltd, a technology investment company which owned 85 per cent of Allure Media, and purchased the remaining 15 per cent from minority shareholders. Allure Media own a range of websites, including the Australian licenses for Business Insider, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, and Kotaku.
In 2014 Fairfax entered into a joint venture partnership with Nine Entertainment Co, called Stream Co, the creators behind Australia’s newest subscription video on demand service, ‘Stan.com.au’.
In December 2014 Fairfax merged with Macquarie Radio Network. Under the deal, Fairfax gained a 55 per cent share in Macquarie. A party may hold only two radio licences in each market, so some stations including 2CH and the Macquarie Regional Radio network were sold. In turn, 96FM Perth was sold to Australian Radio Network. The merger was completed in March 2015.
In 2015 Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post Media Group launched HuffPost.com.au, an Australian edition of The Huffington Post. HuffPost Australia is The Huffington Post’s 15th site in the brand’s expanding global presence.
In December 2015 automotive digital business 112 and Fairfax’s ‘Drive.com.au’ announced the formation of a 50:50 joint venture in the online motor sector. Fairfax will license the Drive brand and ‘Drive.com.au’ URL to 112, which currently owns and operates ‘themotorreport.com.au’, a unique independent online car-buyer resource.
During the past five years the life of Fairfax Media has been rather rocky.
In March 2016 many staff from its newspaper divisions went on a 4 day strike over planned job cuts of 120 editorial staff from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. All printed and digital editions continued during the action but The Age web site was down on 25th and 26th March adding to a 2 week outage earlier in March.
Circulation has considerably reduced during the past five years. In 2011 Fairfax newspapers had the following circulation shares: 21 per cent of the capital city and national newspaper market, 22 per cent of the Sunday newspaper market, 17 per cent of the suburban newspaper market, and 16 per cent of the regional newspaper market. Other Fairfax interests are A.A.P. Information Services – jointly controlled with News Corp Australia, and the Fairfax Interactive Network – an online service.
Much of the everyday main stream news is drawn from the Australian Associated Press. Rural and regional media are dominated by Rural Press Ltd. which is held by Fairfax Media. Daily Mail and General Trust operates the D.M.G. Radio Australia commercial radio networks in metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. The company currently own more than 60 radio stations across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
In practical terms, Murdoch – who incidentally is now an American citizen – controls the Australian media: News Corp dominates regional and suburban newspaper publishing industry. In addition News Corp controls Fox News – popularly known as Faux News.
The Australian people have fewer different voices upon which to make their decisions than almost any other people in the so-called free world. Murdoch does not mind and, with indifference worthy of a sultan, is quite happy that some Australians feel like living in a Murdochracy. There is, however, a suffocating supply of sport services. And ‘that’ matters: some bread and many circuses.
For years some journalists have complained about Murdoch’s autocratic and unprincipled style of demanding that his newspapers publish distorted accounts of the news to suit him. True or not that that may be, particularly in that it is hard to provide proof of the assertion, it is not hard to conclude that, in the presence of a proprietor who controls seventy per cent of the press, democracy is bound to suffer. Even if positive proof were readily available, there is no court before which such evidence can be adduced or which could decide on the issue. The Australian people are not interested.
Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . A controlled mass media (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.
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