10 Dec 2008

Fairfax appoints new chief executive

9:05 pm on 10 December 2008

Fairfax Media Ltd has handed the reins of the publisher to Brian McCarthy, as it prepares to slash dividends and pay down debt to weather the global economic downturn.

The company's board on Wednesday also highlighted its confidence in chairman Ron Walker, saying he was making a great contribution to the group, which reported a rise in annual net profit in fiscal 2008 but is facing a soft advertising market this year.

Mr McCarthy's appointment as Fairfax chief executive and managing director, effective immediately, was widely expected after New Zealander David Kirk stepped down last week after three years.

Fairfax warned shareholders their dividend payout for the first half would fall as it retained funds to pay down debt, against the backdrop of a significant deterioration in the global economic outlook.

Fairfax has cut its dividend payout ratio - the percentage of earnings paid to shareholders in dividends - to about 20%, from 80%, for its interim dividend payable in March 2009.

Mr McCarthy, deputy chief executive of Fairfax and chief executive, Australia, is the former managing director of Rural Press, which merged with the company earlier this year.