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Family control wanes at Farifax Media

John B Fairfax, board member of the family-controlled media company, announced yesterday he will not stand for re-election at the next Fairfax Media AGM.

His announcement means the founding family will have only one representative on the company's board, John's son Nicholas Fairfax.

In a statement announcing his planned retirement, John Fairfax (pictured) said: "I would turn 70 during the course of my next term if I was re-elected and after almost 50 years associated with Fairfax and Rural Press, it is advantageous for the governance of the company to continue with its board re-invigoration programme at a time of positive strategic changes."

He added that he was confident he would leave the company in good hands after his departure. 

Last September saw the Fairfax family assert their control over the board when they removed their support for non-family chairman Ron Walker. (Continue reading here) Later that month Walker announced he would not stand for re-election as chairman at the Australia-based company, despite having the support of the other independent directors on the board.

The saga hinted at divisions between the founding family and the independent board members, suggesting they may not have supported Fairfax's re-election this year if he had planned to stand. 

The family's control was further eroded when its holding company through which it owns shares in Fairfax Media, Marinya Media, did not take up its full entitlement during an equity raising. As a result of this the family's share in the company dropped from 14% to 9.7%.

Founded in 1841, Fairfax Media is Australia's oldest and second-largest media company. It publishes newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age and had 2009 revenues of $2.6 billion. The Fairfax family controlled the company until 1990, after a failed privatisation by John Fairfax's cousin Warwick left the company in administration and was eventually bought by Conrad Black's Tourang Limited.

John Fairfax and his son Nicholas remained in control of a subsidiary company Rural Press, which announced it planned to merge with Fairfax Media at the end of 2006. It was through this merger that the Fairfax family gained a holding in the company and two seats on the Fairfax board. 

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