In 1841, John Fairfax built his publishing empire. However the dynasty ended some 149 years later in 1990, when fifth-generation Warwick Fairfax's take-over attempt at the running of the family-owned business proved unsuccessful. His $2.55 billion privatisation plan ended when the banking syndicate led by ANZ decided to place Fairfax (worth $1.3 billion at the time) in receivership (total debts of $1.7 billion).

Five days after his 27th birthday, Warwick Fairfax, with a Master of Business Administration at Harvard took control of the family company (at 11am on December 7, 1987), some 3 months after the October 1987 share market crash. Mary Fairfax told the press her son was motivated by "Jesus Christ and journalism" and was critical of the banks, "We had $1.7 billion in debt. (Rupert) Murdoch's debt is over $13.8 billion, but they are allowing him a three-year moratorium."

The company reportedly applied to the Federal Court in Sydney for the appointment of Ian Ferrier, a founding partner of the Ferrier and Hodgson insolvency firm, as provisional liquidator to the John Fairfax Group Finance Pty Ltd. The John Fairfax Group was at the time for sale. The banks were seeking new investors to take control. Initially Janet Holmes a Court's Heytesbury Holdings publicly expressed interest. Laurie Connell, founder of merchant bank, Rothwells was paid as much as $27 million as corporate adviser defended Warwick Fairfax's $2.55 billion bid for John Fairfax Group telling the press the market fall assisted "us because it will get the bid over more quickly."

In July 1991, Canadian media baron Conrad Black (20% equity - newspapers foreign investment limit), the San Francisco-based investment house Hellman and Friedman Capital Partners (10% non-voting shares) and Kerry Packer (15% - maximum allowed under the cross-media rules because he controlled channel Nine with a shareholding of 38%) were the public face of the Tourang consortium's bid to take over Fairfax publishing empire.

In October 1991, former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam campaigned against any sale of Fairfax and debated over foreign ownership of the Australia's print media. Around that time, the Australian parliamentary committee began its public hearings into the Tourang's take-over bid of Fairfax newspapers. Following public outcry over Tourang's bid, Kerry Packer called Jana Wendt to debate the issues of concentration of media ownership (Kerry Packer) and foreign ownership of media (Conrad Black) on 'A Current Affair'.

Kerry Packer's unprecedented TV appearance on his own channel and Jana Wendt decided on the spot to extend the show to run an unprecedented three minutes overtime saw the ratings went through the roof. According to A.C. Nielsen, 'A Current Affair' attracted a peak rating of 36 points in Sydney, 33 points in Brisbane, 26 points in Adelaide, 25 points in Melbourne and 23 points in Perth.

Margo Kingston reported, "Jana Wendt has a unique position at Nine. Although, generally, she chooses not to control the content of 'A Current Affair', she demands – and is given – total autonomy over her interviews. She is impossible to influence professionally and never takes a party line. She is such a ratings getter, and so integral to Nine's image, that she can and does say what she thinks."

After the debate, Max Walsh made the comment, "Shareholder democracy is a flaky concept everywhere in the capitalist world, especially in Australia where not one single major public company has a majority of individual shareholders … Where the rest of the world is celebrating the triumph of market-based capitalism and, at the political level, the political virtues of pluralism, Australia is flirting with the idea of slipping back into media-led feudalism."

Jana Wendt: You are the richest man in Australia with vast commercial interests. How much influence does your money bring with it?

Kerry Packer: Not very much.

Jana Wendt: You are – whatever your access to the Prime Minister – regarded as a very powerful man indeed. Do you see yourself as someone with a lot of power?

Kerry Packer: No, I don't. I mean I was brought up in a family that exercised a lot of power, I saw my father exercise power and he did exercise it. And I have never exercised it. And that's a deliberate intention on my part.

Jana Wendt: Never, in any of your commercial interests, never exercised any power at all?

Kerry Packer: Oh, I don't know what any power means. But by and large, I do not exercise power. I do not try to exercise power, and I certainly haven't used any influence that I have for my own benefit in running companies.

Jana Wendt: You inspire fear in lots of people, including some of your employees. Is that the way you prefer it?

Kerry Packer: It's not a matter of preferring it. If you're going to be a nice fellow and you're going to be the person everybody loves, then you're probably going to find out in life that the things that should be done, aren't done … The navy, all the places which have been used to authority over a long period of time separate the captain from the crew.

They recognise that, they give the captain his own cabin, they give him where he eats his own meals, they accept the fact that he's not going to be a popular person. I have accepted the fact that I'm the captain of my ship and I will do what I have to do to get the jobs done that I need to be done. And that doesn't make me popular. I know that. But that's the price of being successful. And that's a choice I made a long time ago.

Of interviewing Kerry Packer, Jana Wendt stated, "When you are interviewing your boss, there is a certain element that enters your thinking, especially this boss, who’s at the heart of a major political controversy. You have to make sure every question is appropriate, and that you’re not open to allegations of bias either for or against him. To get Packer on was to get at the greatest source of the Fairfax conflict – its knife-edge.

"And to have a debate with Fairfax journalists was the best of all possible worlds. Packer really was a wonderful scoop. It is the story. And it was acutely interesting and opportune to interview a man who keeps himself so far out of the public spotlight. My intention was never to query him directly about Fairfax matters. Because there had been such a widespread debate on that, we wanted to give the (Fairfax) journalists open slather.

"So I wanted to make my bit personal and talk about him and his power in general. After all, there is the attraction that he’s Australia’s richest man. Interviewing the boss is terribly sensitive and difficult. Anything you say can be taken two ways: you’re either accused of being too soft or not soft enough. That’s why I thought the best way to tackle it was on a personal level, and get them to do the specifics.

"We saw two sides of Kerry Packer, and that was my aim at the outset. There is endless press speculation about what Kerry Packer's real intentions are, or are not. Mr Packer is certainly large in life, but what is written about him makes him even larger than life. So going public personalises his image a lot." Some 2 million viewers were watching.

In November 1991, Kerry Packer withdrew from the Tourang's bid. In December 1991, the government approved the restructured bid by Tourang under foreign investment guidelines. John Fairfax was sold to Tourang for $1.5 billion. Fairfax owed ANZ-led banking syndicate $1.270 billion. Tourang's offer was chosen because it was the only offer which allowed the banks to complete the sale before Christmas 1991. In 1996, Conrad Black sold his 25% controlling shareholding to New Zealand's Brierley Investments for about $553.8 million. The decision to sell followed his unsuccessful attempt to increase his shareholding to 50% because the Federal Government would not allow foreign owners a bigger stake in the Australian media.

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