Fairfax Ceo Defends Chairman's Share-Buying Spree

21 July 2006

David Kirk, chief executive of Australian media group John Fairfax Holdings, on Wednesday mounted a robust defense of the share-buying activities of group chairman, Ron Walker, who went shopaholic shortly before and after the federal cabinet approved a controversial new media liberalization package [WAMN: 17-Jul-06]

Doughtily championing his boss, Kirk said the purchases of Fairfax stock had been approved by the company's legal division - though his exposition verged on the hazy side of nebulous.

"We have no formal window at Fairfax and there's good reasons for that. It is really about reviewing the situation at any time and the board and the executives being very clear and getting sign-off from the legal division that this is the time it is possible to buy shares. That was all done."

Federal communications minister Helen Coonan, who steered the new media bill through the Australian cabinet, lunched at Fairfax just days before her recommendations were approved. Invited to comment on that fact, Kirk said she was one guest among several and nothing specific was said about the cabinet's deliberations.

For his part, chairman Walker claimed the share-buying spree was motivated by corporate loyalty: "It is a great company. I am showing great faith in the company, to the staff, and our advertisers and I will continue to buy shares in the company.

The buying spree more than doubled Walker's holding in Fairfax to 900,859 shares making him the group's 29th largest shareholder.

His faith could prove very profitable if, as some analysts predict, Fairfax becomes a takeover target under the government's newly liberalized rules.

Data sourced from Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff