In the old days we would have called them media moguls. And the Packers, Murdochs and Fairfaxes would have been first out of the hat. But most of the famous old barons have died, sold up or quit the field, and handed their empires over to managers instead.
Few tycoons nowadays keep newspapers or TV stations as their personal playthings, writing the headlines and dictating editorials as Sir Frank Packer used to do, or ringing the station to pull broadcasts off air, as Kerry once did. Few use their media empires to spout their views, bully governments and advance their business interests, apart from Rupert Murdoch, who still does his best.
But even "managers" in TV and newspapers are more colourful than the average bean counter, so we're dubbing them Media Maestros instead, and recognising that our list is a bit of a mixture.
Some are traditional owners; some are the hired help. Some are so good they've ended up owning a fair bit of what they run. But all have power to affect what we read, watch, hear or are subjected to in the media.
Rupert Murdoch is one man who still fits the mould made famous by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop, with his great Lord Copper character. At 80, the Sun King can still fly into Australia to sack his right-hand man, rip up the front pages and terrify his editors. And they still hang on his every word, in case they should fail to catch a passing wish. He must slow down or die eventually, but on his latest trip down under he was looking much fitter and sharper than he has been.
Little Kerry, as he was called when Kerry Packer was alive, is definitely a mogul, in that he's a billionaire owner of a big TV and magazine empire. But he doesn't throw his weight around like the titans of old, and he's never had an obvious political agenda. He's also been known to talk soberly about the responsibilities of the media to shape Australia's future, although his journalists at Today Tonight can't have been listening.
David Leckie, who runs Seven for Stokes, would make a wonderful media mogul, given half a chance. In fact, Kerry Packer wanted to sack him long before he did, because he treated the place like it was his network. "He's a genius," says one media executive who knows him well, "if you can put up with his raving". At the recent launch of Seven's new season, Leckie's speech was a mixture of "outbursts, forgetfulness, humour, and occasionally indecipherable words". But at least he didn't call his industry colleagues "dopes" and "fuckwits" as he's once said to have done. When it comes to running a TV station, Leckie is the best, and that's why Seven is #1.
Mark Scott never looked like a mogul till he got to run the ABC. A lacklustre editor-in-chief at Fairfax, where he spent most of his time taming the unions, he has been a surprise success at the national broadcaster, where he has dragged its cardigan cadres into the 21st century. Scott has got the government off the ABC's back, led the digital revolution and told the world about it all on Twitter. He still has his critics, but we reckon he's doing well. And if you run the ABC, you do have power.
Lachlan Murdoch would love to be a mogul, when he gets rid of those training wheels. Now managing director of Channel Ten, and a 9% shareholder in the network, Rupert's 40-year old eldest son is certainly shaping the Australian media landscape. Lachlan has dumped George Negus from the 6.30 slot and brought in right-wing warrior Andrew Bolt for Sundays. But his biggest gamble is hiring ex-TVNZ host, Paul "dickshit" Henry, to front Ten's new breakfast program. If that turns out to be a great idea it will be one of Lachlan's first. His record up to now has been dismal.
Greg Hywood sat in the editor's chair at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review in the 1990s. But he's now back running the joint, which also owns radio stations and regional newspapers. He's sacked most of his metropolitan sub-editors, has plans to close the big Sydney printing plant at Chullora, (and possibly the Melbourne plant at Tullamarine), and has just lowered the paywall at the AFR. So will he make Fairfax great again? Possibly not, but Greg's smart, ballsy and committed. And he can't do worse than the "dopes" who've gone before him. (Thanks, David).
Kim Williams is Rupert's new man at News. And in the long term he faces an even more difficult job than Hywood because he'll need to flog The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun to online customers. But if anyone can make the public pay it's Kim, who worked wonders at Foxtel, turning years of losses into a handsome profit. Williams is focused, ambitious and well-connected. As an ex-Australian Lego champion—yes, really—he also knows how to make the pieces fit together. But some say the opera-loving micromanager is difficult to work for. And he may find the News Ltd culture—or lack of it—a challenge.
Morry is a media mogul, but strictly in the junior league. The 63-year-old property developer, who came to Melbourne from Israel at the age of ten, has been in publishing for 37 years and reckons he's "addicted". It doesn't make him money, but he's got plenty of that already, and his Quarterly Essay and The Monthly magazine are the most powerful left-wing voices in Australia. Yes, he's an interventionist proprietor, who has fallen out with several editors and business partners down the years, but the magazines were Morry's idea and he pays the bills, so what do you expect?
John Singleton would make a fabulous media mogul, because he's colourful, loud-mouthed and likes throwing his money around. But he's too busy racing horses, running ad campaigns and getting married to be bothered with the daily grind of a TV network or newspaper business. Nevertheless, as the owner of Sydney shockjock heaven, 2GB, Singo has made his mark on the media, forcing his radio rivals to lurch to the Right in the grab for ratings. It was Singleton who snapped up Alan Jones and Ray Hadley from 2UE in 2002 by offering multi-million dollar salaries. But he's had less success with MTR and Andrew Bolt in Melbourne.
Eric Beecher is an investor, shareholder and director of a number of media businesses including Private Media which owns Crikey, SmartCompany, The Power Index and AIBM, which owns Business Spectator, so we'd better be careful what we say. Back in the 1980s, at the age of 33, he was the youngest-ever editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, and after that, he worked for Rupert Murdoch as editor of the Herald & Weekly Times. But he's seen the light since then. Talented, thoughtful and persistent, he's a power in the land, whatever he says. But if he's a mogul, he's mini or even micro.
David Gyngell is TV boss you can trust, and there aren't many of those. He could also be a mogul if he had a billion or two to play with. But as managing director of Channel Nine, he's dealing with a mountain of debt, which was dumped on his doorstep in 2006 when his best mate James Packer sold the network for $5.5 billion to the "f***wits" at CVC (Thanks, David). Gyngell is also fighting Leckie and his top team at Seven, and coming off second best. And sadly for him, Nine isn't half as powerful as it was when Kerry Packer was running the place.
Stephen Conroy is certainly no mogul but he's definitely a maestro. He frames the cross-media rules, decides what's on (or off) the anti-siphoning list, figures out how many digital TV channels should be allowed, hands out money to licensees and generally runs the playground. He's also given Australia the NBN and set up the convergence review, which will transform our media future. Last but not least, he's set up the Finkelstein media inquiry and accused the Murdoch press of running a jihad against the government. No one in his position has ever been so powerful or so busy.
Angelo Frangopoulos is just a hired gun at Sky News, which is owned by Nine, Seven and the Murdochs' BSkyB. But he's the one who has built it into a credible force in TV news and current affairs, with political commentator David Speers as its leading light. Only a handful of people watch the service, compared to the free-to-air channels, but the bureaucrats in Canberra obviously prefer it to the ABC: they wanted Sky to run the Australia Network in Asia. So he must be doing a good job.
Bruce Gordon is rich enough to be a mogul and has been in TV long enough. But the Bermuda-based owner of Australia's fourth commercial TV network, WIN TV, doesn't really make it to the big league. His stations are regional, and they take almost all their programs from Nine or Ten. But even at 82, Bruce could still be a player. If the banks move on Nine, as Kerry Stokes predicts, Gordon might just be the one to buy some stations. But he'd have to dump his 13% shareholding in Ten, and his seat on the board with Lachlan Murdoch and Gina Rinehart, if he did.