NewsCorp Bails Out of Fairfax while Dow Jones Bid Simmers

08 May 2007

SYDNEY: News Corporation has sold its 7.5% stake in Australian newspaper and online publisher John Fairfax Holdings for around A$380 million (U$313m; €230m: £156m).

The Murdoch clan-controlled media empire has given no reason for the disposal of the shares to institutional investors but the move comes hot on the heels of last week's $5 billion bid for publisher Dow Jones and its crown jewel, The Wall Street Journal [WARC News: 02-May-07].

NewsCorp acquired the stake in Fairfax - whose stable includes The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age - in a surprise move last October for around A$364m, in what it described as a strategic and friendly investment.

Some analysts have speculated that the equally surprising sale is designed to free up cash for the Dow Jones bid, which has been outwardly rejected, at least for now, by the controlling Bancroft dynasty.

Meantime, however, two members of the Ottaway family, minority partners in Dow Jones, have been more forthright in their views of the Murdoch approach.

James H Ottaway Jr warned that the Wall Street Journal's reputation would be "damaged if Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation take over Dow Jones."

He took the veteran media magnate to task for expressing "his personal, political and business biases through his newspapers and television channels".

While Ottaway's son, also James, stuck the knife in still deeper, saying: "As an investor, I would be very concerned to live in an era of making investment decisions based on the Murdoch-filtered business information. As a citizen, I would be afraid to live in a world where news is solely entertainment, and there is an agenda behind every story I read, watch or hear."

Data sourced from Financial Times Online and New York Times; additional content by WARC staff