SYDNEY — Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. ended its four-year campaign to acquire an Australian TV web Wednesday, when it dumped its 14.8% stake in the Kerry Stokes-controlled Seven Network Australia.
The parcel of 42.83 million shares was snapped up within 15 minutes at A$5.15 ($3.40) each, giving News Corp. an estimated $102.3 million profit on the $145.2 million sale. The divestment leaves Stokes as the web’s only major shareholder with 25%, which he wants to grow to 30%.
“News has taken this decision as a direct result of the restrictive policies that continue to affect the Australian media,” said News Australia topper Lachlan Murdoch, adding the decision was no reflection on Seven.
“While we had looked forward to participating in the ongoing success of Seven, we have found ourselves in the position where our investment in Seven can no longer be viewed as a strategic asset. We look forward to a time when we can aggressively compete in Australian broadcasting and further promote Australian talent.”
That remark was a direct swipe at the conservative government, which promised it would scrap Oz’s crush of cross-media ownership laws and examine easing restrictions relating to foreign ownership of media (which affect Murdoch, who has U.S. citizenship) when elected to office in March 1996. But the conservatives got cold feet after relentlessly negative electoral feedback and incessant bickering among moguls who were determined not to have their competitors gain an advantage through the changes.
The Seven sale is the latest in a string of divestments by moguls miffed at Oz’s media laws, including Conrad Black, Kerry Packer and Murdoch quitting stakes in the prized Fairfax newspaper empire and Izzy Asper being forced to sell part of his majority equity interest in Network Ten.
News Corp. has been offloading non-core assets in Oz for more than a year, reaping an estimated $563 million from the sale of stakes in Australian Newsprint Mills, magazine publisher PMP and Fairfax. There is growing speculation News Corp. will quit its stake in racing web Sky Channel.
Despite the sale, Seven retains rights to Murdoch’s Fox film and television output.