An open letter to Gina Rinehart

19 June 2012

Dear Ms Rinehart

Before I go any further, I should let you know I don’t work in the media industry (although for a brief period in the 2000s I was an ABC broadcaster in regional Australia, quite near to where you’re making your billions, in fact, so I get that bit), and I’m not a media expert or commentator, nor someone experienced in business takeovers or Board management. However, I’m someone with an interest in media and culture and stuff and that.

So about the Fairfax thing, I don’t quite get your play here. Have you really thought it through?

I can only assume that you want to  have more editorial control. Really, why else would you bother? You’re the richest woman in the world, with money from resources, not media interests, so your entry here can’t be for altruistic purposes to secure the future of an Australian media institution, or the fourth estate more generally.

If that’s the case, let’s look at some of the possible scenarios from your recent and growing share acquisitions.

First, if you don’t acquiesce to sign a charter of editorial independence, here’s some potential fallout:

  • Lots of hoo-ha from journalists and media types (internally and externally), pesky pressure from government etc. Not good for the share price = bad investment in the short term. But ….
  • If the hoo-ha is protracted, you lose key journalists from the SMH and Age which will be symptomatic of how abysmal it will be to work there because they value their independence after 170 years, readership goes down, share goes down, Fairfax Media goes down the toilet = bad investment = no influence = failed objective (I’m guessing).

Second, if you do sign a charter of editorial independence, here’s some more potential fallout:

  • even though you’ve signed the charter, everyone knows you want editorial control (see above), so when you begin to exert it, there’ll be lots of hoo-ha from journalists and media types (internally and externally), pesky pressure from government, Australian Press Council and things like, well, maybe you  know that Leveson thing happening in the UK at the moment with Rupert? Like that. Not very good for reputations, although that doesn’t seem to have bothered you so far, and I get that too.
  • If the hoo-ha is protracted, you lose key journalists from the SMH and Age which will be symptomatic of how abysmal it will be to work there because they value their independence after 170 years, readership goes down, share goes down, Fairfax Media goes down the toilet = bad investment = no influence = failed objective (I’m still guessing).

So far I’m not seeing a lot of win:win here. Again though, I can see the money thing isn’t an issue, but still.

In fact I’m trying to determine the value of the perceived influence against the risk of the failure. What influence could possibly be worth so much as to put the future of this media organisation at risk?

Is it really worth that much? And can you really buy it?

It reminds me of the expression about horses, water and drinking.

Or, as my wise mother once told me: just because you can do something (which, in your case, is because you have unlimited wealth at your disposal), doesn’t mean you have to.

What are you really trying to achieve here? If you didn’t have a billion squillon dollars to expend on this folly, would you?

I’d love to know.

Yours sincerely

JB

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