Everyone sprayed Fairfax in 1994

January 29, 2008

This story in the Herald Sun Insider column followed the John Fairfax AGM in Melbourne on November 17, 1994.

The Age newspaper's coverage of the environment, republicanism and the salary of columnist Padraic P. McGuinness helped keep John Fairfax chairman Sir Laurence Street busy yesterday.

There were questions from anti-nuclear campaigner Dr Helen Caldicott, Jennifer Syme, whose family once owned Age publisher David Syme and Co, and shareholder activist Jack Tilburn.

Tilburn bombarded Sir Laurence with half an hour of questions on everything from pay-out ratios and the quality of the annual report to excessive advertising in the Good Weekend magazine.

Dr Caldicott, who said she knew several Age journalists, spoke for 10 minutes on poor morale at the newspaper, foreign ownership and lack of environmental coverage, commenting that "the media determines the fate of the earth".

Confessing "I cannot even read him", Dr Caldicott asked whether it was true columnist McGuinness earned $400,000 a year.

Micheal Hoy, the deputy chief executive who himself collected a tidy $1.52 million in 1993-94, said some reports of McGuinness's salary were "wildly exaggerated" and he appeared in a number of papers, very often.

Mr Hoy said Fairfax took environmental issues "terribly seriously" and was aiming to increase use of recycled newsprint from 10 per cent to 50 per cent.

Media magnate Conrad Black gave fulsome praise to The Age and denied that its editorial department had been downsized.

"Mr (Alan) Kohler (The Age editor) is an outstanding editor. He has our full confidence," he said.

When Jennifer Syme asked if shareholders and the public could expect an unbiased attitude from Fairfax on the republic, Sir Laurence replied that the board did not interfere in editorial policy.

Mr Black and fellow director Andrew Turnbull, managing director of Burns Philp, did not appear worried when the normally critical Tilburn congratulated them on their business skills.

However, Insider could not decide whether Turnbull smiled or grimaced when Tilburn reminded him they would meet again today at Burns Philp's annual meeting.