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REAL WORLD EVENT DISCUSSIONS
Media Ownership in Australia
Sunday, July 01, 2012 1:22 PM
Quote:SENIOR Labor backbencher John Murphy has called for the government's media inquiry to examine Gina Rinehart's bid for an influential share of Fairfax and said it reinforced the need for a tough public interest test in media ownership.
Mr Murphy, a trenchant critic of the Murdoch empire and media concentration, said he feared, on the basis of some of her views, that Gina Rinehart could even be ''as scary as Rupert''. He urged her ''to tell the citizens of Australia what her intentions are''.
''If she is going to throttle the independence of Fairfax, I have serious concerns about the amount of control she could have. If journalists have to toe an editorial line, it's a shocking assault on the public interest and our democracy.''
There has been speculation that Mrs Rinehart's boost in her shareholding reflects a desire to make an increased contribution to the debate on national issues.
Mr Murphy said the mining billionaire had a ''massive conflict of interest'' on the carbon tax and the mining tax. ''Will the Australian Financial Review, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald start to campaign against the mining tax and the carbon tax?''
The backbencher's concerns put him at odds with Communication Minister Senator Stephen Conroy, who has said the influence wielded by small shareholders over media companies was a matter for the company board rather than government regulation.
Senator Conroy said neither existing nor prospective media laws could stop a small shareholder trying to exert political influence.
The Gillard government next month will receive the final report of a media regulation review, and backs stronger rules to ensure a diversity of media ownership. But Senator Conroy said the 10 per cent stake held by Ms Rinehart in the Ten Network and the 14 per cent stake she is believed to be seeking in Fairfax would not breach current laws, nor even the stricter laws that operated under the Keating government.
Advice to the government from the Australian Communications and Media Authority states she would need to exceed a 15 per cent stake in both the Ten Network and Fairfax to be in breach of the current act.
She could take a higher shareholding in Fairfax if she did not increase her stake in Ten.
Senator Conroy said the extent to which a minor shareholder exerted influence was a matter for the Fairfax board.
''The Fairfax board would be the final decision-maker on this … should one shareholder with less than 15 per cent be able dictate policy to the entire rest of the board who represent the 85 per cent, that comes down, at the end of the day, to the strength of the existing board,'' he said in an earlier interview on ABC radio.
''… What you've seen recently is that the board has disagreed with the major shareholder, the Fairfax family, and ultimately, the major shareholder left. So what you've seen at Fairfax is a demonstration that the board is a strong board.''
Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said it ''arguably does not matter'' who owned the company because Fairfax had a strong board and editorial independence, but Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said cross-media laws needed to be tightened.
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