One of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart's closest allies has supported her bid for board seats at Fairfax Media and her right to influence editorial agendas.
Media proprietor John Singleton, a former Fairfax board member, rebuffed criticism of Mrs Rinehart's growing stake in Fairfax, after confirmation yesterday that her private company Hancock Prospecting and subsidiaries now own 18.7 per cent of the company's shares after large acquisitions last week.Â While pointing out that directors should not interfere in the editorial decisions of newspapers, he said that a company director's responsibility was to shareholders.
And he said a Fairfax director should take action "if what's being written is not palatable or not attractive to the readers".
"I think some editorial interference would have made the papers more readable in the past, don't you?" he said.
"Editors are in fact hired by the CEO who is hired by the board.
Businesses can't be held to ransom by employees, particularly if it means you are going to lose money." Mr Singleton also questioned the validity of Fairfax's charter of editorial independence and affirmed the right of proprietors to hire and fire editors.
"That Fairfax [charter of] independence was written by Sir Zelman Cowen when I was on the board," Mr Singleton said.
"It was just one of those oil on troubled waters things that no one understood, Sir Zelman was very proud of and the journalists didn't know how to say no to Sir Zelman, even though they don't know what he was talking about.
"So it's really - if you read it carefully, it's double-dutch." Mrs Rinehart has asked for three Fairfax board seats and a right to make editorial decisions, in a move that could provoke a boardroom showdown.
And Mr Singleton says she would make an excellent media proprietor.
I've known Gina since she was a little girl and I was very close to her dad," he said.
"I think the pieces she wrote ...
on Saturday about Australia's crying need for employment in the face of all the unemployment we have and with all the people stuck in refugee camps clamouring for freedom and for work, was a wonderful piece of work, and why that wasn't run by the Herald or the Tele - "Gina Rinehart exclusive" - I have no idea." But he did raise concerns that Mrs Rinehart might need to brush up on her knowledge of the media business.
"I don't know whether Gina - her representatives on the board or managers - know enough about the transfer of news to telephones and iPods and iPads and so forth," Mr Singleton said.
"Whether or not Gina is that person, I can't say, because I know Gina well personally.
"I don't know how well she's maintained her skill-set in a new world." Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett is understood to have offered Mrs Rinehart two board seats on the understanding that she will not interfere in editorial matters or the selection of editors.Â