News Ltd and Fairfax: a study in contrasts

July 28, 2008

Here is Stephen Mayne's one story from the Crikey edition on Tuesday, 25 October, 2005.

14. News Ltd and Fairfax: a study in contrasts

By Stephen Mayne, in the Qantas Club at Sydney Airport

The past few days has provided another case study in the different approaches to editorial independence between News Ltd and Fairfax. Simply turning up at the News Corp AGM in New York triggered predictably one-sided coverage in News Ltd papers, with barely a mention of what actually happened at the meeting.

Crikey is considered dangerous to mention by most News Ltd papers in Australia because the sycophantic editors wouldn't want to upset the boss by giving anything more than a passing reference to the lively debate in the historic Hudson Theatre on Friday morning. We all know that Rupert Murdoch is a control freak and nothing demonstrates the point better than the editorial subservience he demands.

The contrast with Fairfax is stark indeed, when you consider that I'm actually running for the company's board at the AGM on November 18, a far bigger issue than merely being a shareholder asking questions from the floor.

Rather than Fairfax reporters and editors deciding to ban Crikey so they don't upset their chairman Ron Walker, who is not happy about facing a contested election, if anything the opposite has happened.

Fairfax's New York correspondent Mark Coultan produced this piece for The Age and The SMH yesterday and both papers (SMH today, Age tomorrow) are also carrying a Money section cover story by Crikey on how to be an effective shareholder during the current AGM season. I also spoke at a recent Fairfax seminar in Melbourne on "how to keep your fund manager honest."

Can you imagine The Bulletin or The Australian commissioning a 2000 word piece on shareholder agitation from someone who was running for the board of PBL or News Corp? It just wouldn't happen and this is precisely why Fairfax shouldn't be swallowed by one of the big boys if Australia's cross-media ownership laws are ever repealed.