Wayne Swan has branded Gina Rinehart's plans for Fairfax Media a threat to democracy, backing calls for the billionaire mining recluse to respect the organisation's long-standing editorial independence.
Mrs Rinehart has upped her stake in Fairfax to 18.7 per cent and is demanding three board seats, the ability to hire and fire editors and the power to direct journalists in their reporting.
The board, headed by chairman Roger Corbett, has offered her two board seats provided she guarantees editorial independence.
Mr Swan, the Acting Prime Minister, said every Australian should be concerned by the prospect of Mrs Rinehart exercising a disproportionate influence on public policy by imposing her political views on the Fairfax newspaper chain.
"I think that has very big implications for our democracy," he said.
"Over the years, many media empires have been owned by people who have been, or who have had access to enormous resources but no one has so publicly and blatantly said they intend to impose their commercial imperatives on the essential role of journalists when they are trying to report in a fair and balanced way."
Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former journalist, said that if Mrs Rinehart wanted to exercise editorial control, she should mount a take- over of Fairfax.
He said she should be conscious that much of Fairfax's value was wrapped up in Fairfax's tradition of editorial independence.
"I've known a lot of media proprietors over the years, Kerry Packer, Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black, Jimmy Goldsmith, Robert Maxwell, it's a long list and there are plenty of others," Mr Turnbull said.
"They've all been people of very strong opinions. They've all been able to express their views in one way or another in their newspapers, but most by and large, they've recognised that part of the value of their publication is tied up with their perceived objectivity."
Mrs Rinehart did not respond to questions from _The West Australian _ yesterday but longtime friend and advertising guru John Singleton said she would make an excellent media owner.
"I'm biased. I've known Gina since she was a little girl and I was very close to her dad (Lang Hancock)," Mr Singleton said.
He conceded that Mrs Rinehart might not be familiar with the latest media developments.
"I don't know whether Gina - her representatives on the board or managers - know enough about the transfer of news to telephones and iPods and iPads and so forth," Mr Singleton said.
Journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Canberra Times released a letter sent to Mrs Rinehart asking her to respect the 1988 Fairfax independence charter, which allows journalists to report regardless of the political, personal or commercial interests of proprietors, shareholders or board members. <div class="endnote">