1 Feb 2012

Bid for Fairfax renews media ownership debate

8:15 pm on 1 February 2012

An Australian mining billionaire's move to increase her stake in the Fairfax media company has renewed debate about media ownership in Australia.

Gina Rinehart has taken a 9% holding in Fairfax, which owns a number of New Zealand newspapers including the Dominion Post and The Press in Christchurch.

Fairfax said she had moved to double her stake after buying shares following close of trade on the Australian Stock Exchange.

The ABC says it is believed Ms Rinehart is seeking to increase her holding to just under 15%, which would make her the company's biggest individual shareholder.

Shares in Fairfax rose more than 10% when the sharemarket opened on Wednesday morning.

Ms Rinehart - who is Australia's richest person - already owns a 10% stake in Channel Ten along with a seat on the company board and media analysts see her move on Fairfax as an attempt to increase her political influence.

The news sparked Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to signal he wanted new laws on media ownership to include a public interest test on media diversity.

"Clearly she is seeking to exert her influence but is she breaking the law by exerting an influence? No," Senator Conroy told ABC local radio. "Do we need stronger laws in this area? Yes."