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TPG Capital flags it would sell Fairfax again within five years, but commits to editorial independence

Private equity firm TPG has publicly committed to maintaining Fairfax Media’s charter of editorial independence if it is successful in its proposed takeover bid.

Speaking at today’s Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism in Melbourne, Joel Thickins, head of TPG Capital Australia and New Zealand, said: “If TPG is successful in acquiring Fairfax we would commit to maintain its charter of editorial independence”.

Thickins said: “We are owners not managers”

The proposed deal would see the consortium acquire Fairfax Media and all its entities, including Domain and its shareholdings in Macquarie Media and Stan with a proposed bid of more than $2.7bn currently before the board.

Thickins said TPG Capital would subscribe to Fairfax’s editorial standards and operate “as owners not managers”.

“We look to add value by giving them access to capital, talent and operational and sector expertise within our global framework. If the consortium does acquire Fairfax neither I nor any member of the consortium wishes to become a newspaper editor.

“The reason for its value is consumers have trust in the quality of journalism that is being provided.

“We believe quality journalism based on integrity is one of the cornerstones of a healthy and democratic society. Quality journalism around the globe has been put in a precarious position by the disruption and the commercial framework that has traditionally supported it.

“People are consuming content in a variety of new ways and traditional media companies struggle to maintain and grow their share of advertising revenue in that market. This is not a Fairfax issue, this is not an Australian issue, this is a global industry issue,” he said in his opening statement.

In line with private equity standard practice, Thinkins told the Inquiry TPG Capital would potentially look to sell Fairfax Media four to five years after a takeover.

When asked about the future of journalists at Fairfax Media and honouring any redundancy packages, Thickins responded by saying TPG “would honour all obligations of the business” including redundancy payments.

“We will honour all employee entitlements, we are valuing this business on the basis of its current performance including all costs, all employee entitlements, all union agreements, that is the basis of our interests.

“Naturally we would pay employee entitlements,” he said.

However, Thickins said TPG hasn’t yet undertaken due diligence.

“We wouldn’t be interested in acquiring this business that has 186 years of history based on quality content and trust with its audience, if the point was to somehow devalue that quality product and so what I will say is we look forward to doing due diligence.”

The future of Fairfax’s real estate portal and content platform Domain was also discussed with TPG noting the brands are strongest together.

“Domain and the metropolitan mastheads are better together.

“They provide value to one another.

“Our conduct is the best way to look at it which is we could have originally approached the company to acquire just Domain, but we didn’t, we made an offer to acquire Domain plus the metro mastheads because we think those are stronger together.

“These are highly demanded mastheads, this is not something just to be pushed to the side, these are iconic institutions and certainly what attracted them to us.”

Thickins would not be baited on when he last spoke with Domain boss Anothony Catalano.

The future of print journalism was also discussed throughout the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism with Thickins sharing his view on where print is headed.

“The printed newspapers will continue to face structural decline.

“The audience members have a higher appetite for content than ever before, so how people access that content is what’s changing.

“High quality content has never been more in demand.”

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