Rinehart's Fairfax rage flares
Fairfax Media avoided a "second strike" at its shareholders' meeting on Thursday, but Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart, continued her campaign against the board by voting against three of the four resolutions, including the re-election of two women directors.
After the meeting, Mrs Rinehart's representative, Hancock Prospecting's chief development officer John Klepec, criticised the board and editorial direction of the media group that owns The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Mr Klepec said there was a "disconnect" between claims of growing readership and continued falling revenue.
When asked to explain the vote against the re-election of the two directors, Sandra McPhee and Linda Nicholls - as well as the resolution to award performance shares to chief executive Greg Hywood - Mr Klepec referred to Tuesday's big race. "Given it's Melbourne Cup week, it's apparent the donkeys are the first to eat and drink at the Fairfax stables, the thoroughbreds eat and drink last," he said without providing further explanation.
Earlier, Fairfax Media warned it is yet to see a sustained lift in the advertising market since the Abbott government was elected, reflecting the views of other media companies.
"The post-election advertising cycle is not proving to be robust and advertising bookings are short, providing limited visibility," Mr Hywood told investors. He said overall revenues are down 6 per cent from the start of July, compared to the same period last year.
Mr Klepec called for a "refreshment" of the board, despite the fact that Mrs Rinehart did not vote her stock against the one resolution that could have led to a spill of the board - the resolution to adopt the remuneration report.
Mrs Rinehart helped to deliver last year's first strike, with more than 25 per cent of investors voting against the report. A second strike this year would have triggered a resolution to spill the board.
But Mrs Rinehart's 15 per cent stake would not have been enough to deliver a second strike as the remuneration report was approved with 97 per cent of the vote.
It is clear that the appointment of Mrs Rinehart's long-time friend, Jack Cowin, to the board last year had not softened her criticism, but Mr Cowin said he was very much supportive of the board.
When asked about Mrs Rinehart's vote against most resolutions, he noted that she had abstained from voting against the remuneration report: "Which is the right thing to do, so I am happy with that."
Fairfax is undergoing significant cost-cutting and a restructure to match its cost base with the lower revenues and profit margins online, which are ravaging the print media industry worldwide.
The company said it is on target to extract $311 million in annual costs from the business by 2015, with further cuts expected in 2016.
"We have designed our new structure with our eyes firmly on the future, We are committed to being a lean and agile organisation that is focused on digital revenue opportunities, building new businesses and maximised cash flow from our still-strong print businesses," Mr Hywood said.
This includes new revenue from metered digital subscriptions introduced for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age at the end of June. Mr Hywood said take-up has exceeded expectations, with the two mastheads attracting in excess of 86,000 new digital subscribers, while 102,000 print subscribers also signed up for digital access.