Singleton joins Rinehart in Fairfax foray

Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, has fresh support for another tilt to gain representation on the board's of Australia's largest newspaper group, Fairfax Media, and sell off more assets.

According to The Australian newspaper, media and advertising mogul John Singleton has teamed up with his Macquarie Radio Network colleague Mark Carnegie from Gutenberg Investments Unit Trust to buy a shareholding and has "agreed to consult" with Mrs Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting Group.

A substantial shareholder notice shows the revised stake held by the association of Gutenberg and Hancock is now 15.14%.

The Australian reports Mrs Rinehart is seeking a faster realisation of assets but the board has indicated a willingness to sell down non-core assets only, holding firm in their involvement in print and online news under the Fairfax name.

Just before Christmas, Fairfax sold its remaining stake in New Zealand auction website Trade Me.

Mrs Rinehart has previously been denied a seat on the board by chairman Roger Corbett because she declined to sign the Fairfax charter of independence.

Late last week, Mr Singleton secured a stake in Fairfax, immediately joining forces with Mrs Rinehart, a "long-time friend," to push for a "significant" say in the company.

He says his entry into Fairfax follows the board's decision "definitively closing the door" on a sale or joint venture of Fairfax's radio assets to his Macquarie interests.

"For the amount of money I was prepared to pay for the radio assets of Fairfax I could buy a significant amount of all the assets of Fairfax at a far lower price to earnings multiple," he says.

"Hence, with my preferred direct route closed, I have decided to pursue another path."

Mr Singleton says he and Mr Carnegie have met with Mrs Rinehart but their association is still in the early stages.

"It was clear to me from the start that there was a mutual interest in working together," he said.

"However, it is important to state that both Gina and I believe that the lifeblood of Fairfax is the integrity and accuracy of its journalism.

"This in no way would be compromised if Hancock Prospecting and Gutenberg Investments had a significant say in the future of Fairfax."

But Mr Singleton has taken a swipe at the board, saying the Fairfax Charter of Independence should be reviewed.

"I think the current board has struggled to come to terms with the new environment, which is there for all to see in the share price and the lack of direction at the company," he said.

"I was on the board of Fairfax when Sir Zelman Cowen was chairman of the board some 20 years ago, when the existing Fairfax Charter of Independence was drawn.

"There is no reason why a group of eminent and experienced Australians should not review the charter to ensure and enable its relevance for today, and the current very challenging times for the media."

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