Ex-Australian Leaders Oppose Sale of Media

From Reuters

Former Australian Prime Ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam, bitter enemies while in office, have joined forces to stop the debt-ridden Fairfax media empire being sold to overseas interests.

A letter signed by Fraser and Whitlam and six other eminent Australians, published in newspapers last week, also called on the government not to let the country's media fall into the hands of two dominant players.

"We must not be left with two dominant players in newspapers, television and magazines. Such a situation would be without parallel in the Western world," Whitlam told reporters.

Three bids were submitted for Fairfax early last week by Canadian Conrad Black and Australian Kerry Packer, Irishman Tony O'Reilly, and a wholly-Australian owned consortium of Melbourne investors.

A decision on the sale is expected next month.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. controls the majority of Australia's newspapers. Packer, Australia's richest man, controls the top rating Nine Network television network and owns Consolidated Press, Australia's major magazine publisher.

Fairfax, which controls the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age of Melbourne and the Australian Financial Review, was put into receivership last December with debts of $950 million.

"The Fairfax newspaper sale is the last chance to arrest the growing concentration of Australian media ownership," the letter said.

Fairfax journalists in Sydney gave out 30,000 anti-Packer pamphlets Wednesday during a 24-hour strike in protest at the possibility of Packer gaining further media dominance.

They also held a two-hour lunchtime rally outside the ANZ bank headquarters--one of Fairfax's major creditors.

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