The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Media wars: McCrann vs. Carlton on News Ltd vs. Fairfax

News Ltd's Terry McCrann has been in fine form recently, and has echoed my arguments on the strategic business challenges facing Fairfax. In The Australian today, he comments:

IF Gina Rinehart didn't exist, you really would want to invent her. For her arrival at the death of the Fairfax Media broadsheets -- more accurately, they are already broadloids, to now formally be reborn as full tabloids before perhaps final extinction -- has proved an exquisite lightning rod for incoherence and inanity.

The frothing over editorial independence -- more accurately, a pompously self-interested demand for journalistic anarchy -- has completely overlooked two more salient issues that link back to and expose the mindless emptiness of the frothing.

First, Rinehart made a conscious decision to buy into the present Fairfax and its broadloids. You might question either or both the commercial sense of her move, and the acceptability of her clear wish to influence editorial content. But that basic fact is most significant.

She was prepared to invest in the current and future Fairfax. Arguably she is the only person of substance prepared to make a fresh investment in the current and future Fairfax. Rinehart was buying Fairfax shares when everyone else was selling. She was able to slice through the register, acquiring nearly 20 per cent. And far from having to pay more to buy quantity, the more she bought, the cheaper they got. Indeed, but for her buying where would the share price be today? Take Rinehart out of the Fairfax register and would there even be a future for Fairfax?

The SMH's Mike Carlton clearly does not see eye-to-eye with Terry or me. In today's paper, he argues:

THIS week's changes announced at Fairfax and the looming presence of Gina Rinehart on the share register have produced more empty blather than you could poke a stick at. On and on it went. (Except at the ABC's Media Watch on Monday, which evidently wasn't interested.) Everyone's an expert, including many who have never been near a newsroom in their lives.

There was a particularly silly effort from Christopher Joye, an economist and funds manager, writing for the online (and now Murdoch-owned) Business Spectator. "Commentators complaining about Gina Rinehart's investment in Fairfax do not get it," he declared. "They should get a job working for the ABC if they want to pursue a public mission. Fairfax has only one mission, which is to pay its creditors and furnish the highest risk-adjusted returns to its shareholders."

Really? I would have thought reporting and explaining the news might have got a look-in somewhere but no, that's economists for you.

The way forward might be for Rinehart to hire the experienced Malcolm Turnbull to run any takeover attempt. How wonderful if Malcolm could reprise his detonation of Kerry Packer's bid for Fairfax in 1991, a gripping melodrama of deep-throat hi-jinks and death threats.

Maddest of all was an editorial in The Australian on Wednesday, a load of self-serving and hilariously pompous tosh purporting to offer advice to Fairfax on how to publish newspapers. This from the local flagship of the media empire that gave the world Britain's phone-hacking scandal and the wholesale criminal corruption of police officers and public officials. The Oz's neurotic urge to lecture its media competitors and blow its own trumpet is one of the wonders of journalism.