A LONG-TIME ally of Gina Rinehart has been appointed to the board of Fairfax Media.
Three weeks after spurning Mrs Rinehart, the group's largest shareholder, in her push for board seats, Jack Cowin has accepted a board position and agreed to editorial independence.
A media investor and fast-food entrepreneur, Mr Cowin was first suggested as an independent director by Mrs Rinehart, who owns 15 per cent of Fairfax and is seeking two board seats for herself and a nominee.
Mr Cowin has agreed to the same governance principles that apply to the rest of the board - including editorial independence. Fairfax has so far declined to offer Mrs Rinehart a board seat, citing her refusal to agree to the same principles of independence.
''Mr Cowin joins the board as an independent director and on the same basis as all other directors,'' the chairman, Roger Corbett, said yesterday.
He described Mr Cowin as ''one of Australia's most respected and experienced entrepreneurs and directors. He has been a long-term investor in the media and we welcome his great media experience, independence of thought and insights.''
Mr Cowin has been on the Channel Ten board since 1998, and made his fortune establishing the Hungry Jacks franchise in Australia. He is listed at 63 on the BRW rich list, valued at $610 million - a little shy of Mrs Rinehart's estimated worth of $29 billion.
''I'm personally thrilled that he has joined us,'' said Mr Corbett, who has known Mr Cowin for some time.
Some observers believe Mr Cowin's long friendship with Mrs Rinehart, and her father before her, could encourage a thawing of relations which had become increasingly fractious as the company said it could not offer her a board seat without her agreeing to editorial independence.
Mr Cowin has previously said Mrs Rinehart deserved a board seat but should agree not to contact journalists directly.
While Mrs Rinehart did not respond to requests for comment, other investors embraced the appointment.
''[It] was a good decision. Jack Cowin is a good businessman with media experience, having been on the Ten board for some time,'' said Perpetual's deputy head of equities, Charlie Lanchester.