Media owned by billionaires is not independent

Fairfax is already run by directors with interests in mining. And energy. And defence. And big pharma. And retail…

Two of the most prominent Fairfax newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, have updated their mastheads to include the slogan “Independent. Always.”

The slogan alone does not make it clear from who or what they are claiming independence. After all, billionaire Gina Rinehart, one of the world’s richest people, is the single biggest shareholder in the company.

Fairfax does have what it calls a Charter of Editorial Independence that says: “Editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.” The editors know not to step out of line.

When Rinehart bought these shares last year, it was widely said — even by Fairfax — that she was interested in gaining “influence” rather than making a commercial decision. In 2010, when she bought a large stake in TV station Channel Ten, conservative columnist Andrew Bolt wrote: “Rinehart is on a mission. Channel 10 is just the vehicle.”

The mission is to convince the Australian public — but mainly politicians — to support her idea to turn northern Australia into a “special economic zone” where she can pay less tax and lower wages.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Liberal leader Tony Abbott have now adopted this plan. Rudd pledged to introduce the zone to the Northern Territory if he was re-elected, saying on August 15: “It would be great to have a company tax rate here one-third lower than that of rest of the country.”

It’s not just the owners of Fairfax that have an influence on the news. Green Left Weekly has previously reported about the business interests of the Fairfax board. “Fairfax is already run by directors with interests in mining. And energy. And defence. And big pharma. And retail … Corporate media go to great lengths to claim they are impartial and balanced because it is not a good look to admit that, as corporations, they are naturally biased towards corporations.”

Fairfax might not like its readers to think of it as a corporation, but it is run to make a profit. It makes its money mainly through advertising, a model that is getting harder and harder to sustain, as moves to restrict online content reveals.

There is speculation Fairfax will scrap its weekday editions by as early as 2015. Because that’s what corporations do with products that are not making money.

Unlike Fairfax, GLW is not owned by billionaires. Nor is it run for profit. It is proudly independent. Because of this, it relies on donations from readers and supporters to continue.

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