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James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Stokes goes to Canberra: the last great Australia-based media baron answers the call

Published 19 March 2013 06:56, Updated 20 March 2013 07:28

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Stokes goes to Canberra: the last great Australia-based media baron answers the call

Media baron Kerry Stokes wasn’t backward in coming forward at the one-day inquiry into the federal goverment’s media reform package. Photo: Andrew Meares

Veteran Seven Network owner Kerry Stokes is not a man to hide his light under a bushel in the corridors of power.

So it was no surprise to see Stokes appear before the federal government’s hastily convened, one-day inquiry into its game-changing media reform package.

Stokes was joined by a line-up of big media bosses, including News Corporation’s Kim Williams, Ten Network’s new boss Hamish McLennan, Nine Entertainment Co CEO David Gyngell and Greg Hywood, the boss at Fairfax Media, which publishes BRW.

These men were singing from the same hymn sheet.

“The introduction of a government-appointed regulator to oversee print and digital news-gathering journalism will have seriously dangerous consequences for good government,” Hywood told the afternoon session of the Senate committee hearing into Communications Minister Stephen Conroy’s media legislation package on Monday.

“For the first time in Australian history outside wartime, there will be political oversight over the conduct of journalism in this country.”

Stokes was blunter.

“I have never seen anything so intrusive,” Stokes told the committee. “This legislation goes beyond anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else that’s been put up.”

For the first time in Australian history outside wartime, there will be political oversight over the conduct of journalism.

Stokes speaks from decades of experience, but also from a position that few other Australian media bosses can speak from these days – as a majority owner.

Indeed, if you see Rupert Murdoch as an American media baron (he doesn’t appear on the BRW Rich 200 for example), and when you recall that James Packer has sold off his big media investments, then there is an argument to be made that Stokes is the last of the great Australian media barons.

Bruce Gordon, the owner of WIN Television, may want to challenge this, but as a regional TV company owner he’s not really in the same ballpark as Stokes.

That Stokes is the last Australian media baron standing is an interesting point to consider as the government puts forward reforms to improve media standards and a process to curb media concentration.

The Packer and Fairfax families have largely exited the media, and there’s the impression billionaires are no longer as keen on collecting media assets as they once were.

On the flip side, the fact that only two powerful media barons are left standing – Stokes and Murdoch – suggests many assets could potentially end up in the hands of a select few.

It’s a sidebar to the media reforms debate – which Stokes and co look set to win – but a fascinating one.

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