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Panpa Bulletin : April 2006
PUbliShiNG MatterS Peter ISSaCSon Not the Winter Olympic Games or the Common- wealth Games. The games that are about to begin are the Media Games -- the jostling for position that the boards of Aus- tralian and foreign media com- panies are readying to start in the light of Senator Helen Coonan's discussion paper on future media policy in Australia. By now most, if not all, Austral- ian media executives will have read the paper, conferred with colleagues and plotted their next move - either to go out on the ac- quisition trail, to put up barriers against possible predators or to just sit tight and wait for others to make the first move. Financial journalists, media watching commentators and share tipsters have written their words or had their say on what they believe (or hope) the future holds for Australian newspapers and electronic media. Those em- ployed in the extended media industry and their industrial un- ions are watching fearfully as any wholesale merging of companies is likely to reduce the number of people required to man the edi- torial departments and produc- tion facilities. Freelancers too, for whom the consumer media is their greatest source of income, are worried. The hope of all is that whatever is decided by the government will be enacted be- fore the presently proposed com- mencing date of 2012. As many have pointed out, a delay of six years is unconscionable. In view of the rapid growth of internet based advertising, the take-over of media companies for their metropolitan newspapers is less likely now than it was a few years ago. Nethertheless, Fairfax and West Australian Newspa- pers are at risk - if not from News Limited or PBL, then from APN News and Media in which Tony O'Reilly's Independent News and Media of Ireland has a controlling 40.3 per cent interest or Lord Ro- thermere's Daily Mail and General Trust. APN showed their interest in Fairfax when it was in play af- ter the Warwick Fairfax debacle. Under the vigorous management of Brendan Hopkins, APN's well- liked chief executive (who has recently increased his share-hold- ing in the company), APN is in an even stronger position to make a move on Fairfax than it was in the 1990's. As for me, I will just sit back, watch the various moves with in- terest, note the value of my media shares (hopefully) increase and reflect on the occasions when major media players and others wanted to buy my publishing in- terests before I was ready to sell. The first occasion I recall was a deal that was accepted by both parties except for typing in 1967 with Illiffe-NTB International Limited, a subsidiary of Interna- tional Publishing Company (IPC) of London. There were protracted negotiations which resulted in Il- liffe offering to form an Australian business-to-business publish- ing company in partnership with me, in which I was to hold 60 per cent of the shares and Illiffe 40 per cent. The assets of the com- pany were to be my dozen or so business-to-business magazines and newspapers, reference books and tourist guides. I was to retain full ownership of my community newspapers in metropolitan Mel- bourne and Gippsland, of com- mercial printing and the printing plant. When I arrived in London, I was told the payment would be re- duced by 10,000 pounds. I wasn't going to stand for that, and had to call in the chairman of IPC to have the original price stand. The agreement was drawn up but there was typographical er- rors, so we put off signing it for 24 hours while it was corrected. The following day I arrived at the of- fice for the meeting, and waited several hours before being told that the chairman had been dis- missed the night before, there was a new board and they weren't interested in minority interests. They wanted 60 percent. In the biography 'Pathfinder', Denis Warner quotes me as say- ing, "Your action at this last stage is despicable," as I walked out the door. That year, I was also ap- proached by Ranald Macdonald, then managing director of David Syme and Company Limited, publishers of The Age, to take a minority interest, this time in my community newspaper group. The business-to-business publications were to stay with me.As Denis Warner writes, "All went well until at final meeting in The Age office, Ranald said that instead of a minority interest, The Age wanted a majority holding. Shocked at the turnaround, Isaac- son replied that while he was will- ing to have the Age as a minority shareholder, he was not prepared to let it have control of the com- pany. This said, he walked out." From the above you will under- stand why I will be an interested watcher of the future moves to further consolidate the various media interests in Australia. I hope all concerned will act more honourably than did IPC and The Age (before it was Fairfax). Fi- nally I must add that when I was ready to sell, negotiations with my chosen buyer, Tony O'Reilly's Australian Provincial Newspapers Limited (now APN News and Me- dia Limited), went off without a hitch,although the ultimate break up of the company and sale of the publications to a variety of pub- lishers (at a profit to APN), greatly disappointed me. However I have maintained a very pleasant per- sonal relationship with Tony, with his son Cameron, with Brendan Hopkins the present managing director of APN and Ranald Mac- donald, recently returned to Aus- tralia from the US and UK. DISCLOSURE:The writer holds shares in all the Australian pub- lishing companies mentioned above. Peter Issacson is a publisher and life member of PANPA. those employed in the extended media industry and their industrial unions are watching fearfully as any wholesale merging of companies is likely to reduce the number of people required to man the editorial departments and production facilities. let the games begin With media ownership laws set for a major shake-up, Peter Isaacson refects on his experiences negotiating with other media owners. april 2006 PaNPa bUlletiN | 13