APN NEWS AND MEDIA
When Irish newspaper magnate Tony O’Reilly (1936– ) found a way around Australia’s foreign media ownership laws in 1988, he was able to take control of a chain of 13 regional daily newspapers stretching from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales, to Mackay in Queensland.
O’Reilly was married to an Australian and had six sons with Australian passports. A family trust formed for the O’Reilly children’s benefit was the majority (85.1 per cent) shareholder in Haswell Pty Ltd, the takeover vehicle that led to the end of Provincial Newspapers (Qld) Ltd (PNQ). O’Reilly was also the principal shareholder of Independent Newspapers Plc of Ireland, which held 14.9 per cent of Haswell. Haswell bought the combined News Limited/ Rupert Murdoch interest of 48.6 per cent in PNQ and made a successful offer for the remaining shares. PNQ was sold for $130 million.
The Trade Practices Commission instructed Murdoch and News to divest themselves of the controlling interest in PNQ that had arisen from News’s takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) and other subsequent dealings. The Irish interests convinced the Foreign Investment Review Board that Australian interests would remain in control, but seven months after taking control they installed Liam Padraig Healy, a senior executive of the Irish group, as chief executive officer.
Haswell took control of PNQ on 26 July 1988 and renamed it Australian Provincial Newspapers Ltd on 2 November 1988; it became Australian Provincial Newspapers Holdings Ltd when listed on the Stock Exchange in March 1992 and was renamed APN News & Media Ltd on 21 April 1998. APN acquired its tenth Queensland regional daily, the Gympie Times, on 6 August 1999 and acquired the remaining 50 per cent interest in the Toowoomba Chronicle in July 2007.
Since 2001, APN has held significant trans-Tasman interests. For $730 million, it acquired the New Zealand newspaper publisher, Wilson & Horton, which had been owned by APN’s parent company, Independent News & Media Plc, since 1998. The NZ company owned nine daily newspapers, including Auckland’s New Zealand Herald, as well as 32 non-daily titles and a handful of special-interest magazines. In October 2004, APN launched the Herald on Sunday in Auckland in opposition to Fairfax’s NZ national title, the Sunday Star Times.
By 2014, more than 50 per cent of its earnings were coming from non-publishing assets (radio, digital media and outdoors), even though it owned 20 daily and more than 100 non-daily newspapers across Australia and New Zealand. It also owned or part-owned 12 metropolitan radio stations in Australia and seven ‘core’ radio stations in New Zealand that supply the programming for 126 local stations. The Irish shareholding in APN was 18.6 per cent in 2014 and the Irish no longer controlled the APN board.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, ‘Ghost of Caution Haunts House of Dunn’ (PhD thesis, 1995).