Jack Cowin, entrepreneur and long-time ally of mining magnate Gina Rinehart, has been offered a seat on the Fairfax board.
The announcement could be interpreted as a win for either Rinehart or Fairfax, as she’s been negotiating with the company for weeks on joining the board herself. She ultimately backed away as the publishing giant stood firm on its requirements for board members to sign a charter of editorial independence.
And it appears Cowin has done just that. In a statement released by Fairfax this morning, it said Cowin has joined the board “on the same basis as all other directors”.
“We are very pleased that Mr Cowin, an experienced media investor and director, has accepted our invitation to join the board,” chairman Roger Corbett said.
“Our discussions with Mr Cowin over recent months have made it clear he has considerable value to add to the company,” he said, although added the appointment is not indicative or connected to the potential outcomes of discussions with Hancock Prospecting.
Shares have remained relatively unchanged after the announcement, rising 0.35% to 56 cents.
However, some onlookers would say that’s difficult to believe. Rinehart has been attempting to win three board seats for months, and one of those was reportedly reserved for Cowin himself.
Cowin sits on the board of Ten Network with Rinehart, and is also the chairman of Competitive Foods Australia, which handles the Hungry Jack’s and KFC franchises.
Back in 2007, he inspired an inquiry in West Australian franchise laws, and has been a key lobbyist in the industry overall.
“Jack is one of Australia’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs and directors. He has been a long-term investor in the media, and we welcome his great media experience, independence of thought, and insights,” Corbett said.
Cowin will have signed a declaration stating the following: “At Fairfax a key value is editorial independence. Day to day editorial direction and decisions on stories is a matter for the editors, not the board.”
It is the same declaration Rinehart has refused to sign. She has also threatened to abandon her shareholding by the end of the year if Corbett and the rest of the board do not oversee a turnaround in readership and circulation.
She has reduced her stake, through Hancock Prospecting, to just 14.9% from 18.7% earlier this year. She remains the largest shareholder.