The Australian’s Mark Day gives an honest spin on the details surrounding the sale of Stuart Simson’s five easy listening radio stations. Read the entire story

FORMER Productivity Commissioner Stuart Simson has sold his five regional radio stations ahead of a report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the legality of his ownership.
Simson’s Elmie Investments purchased the stations in Cairns, Mackay, Bendigo, Mildura and Bunbury in 2005 after Macquarie Regional Radioworks, an arm of Macquarie Bank, bought the regional operations of Bermuda-based billionaire Reg Grundy’s RGC Radio.
MRR had earlier bought the regional operations of DMG Radio, and the RGC acquisition meant it was in potential breach of the “two stations to a market” rule in the five markets.

The stations were originally owned by AMI Radio, formerly associated with Griffith radio and TV identity Ray Gamble.

The ACMA inquiry, announced in February last year, was aimed at probing possible breaches of ownership rules relating to the control of the licences.

It is understood Elmie had a $9 million funding arrangement with ANZ, secured by a guarantee from a Macquarie Bank subsidiary.

ACMA’s terms of reference called for an investigation into whether Macquarie Bank or any of its subsidiaries or any other related person or associate was in a position to exercise control of the Elmie licences.

It also asked whether any offences had been committed in relation to the Elmie licences, whether Elmie remained a suitable licensee and what action, if any, should be taken as a result of ACMA’s findings.

It is understood the inquiry, conducted by ACMA staff, was completed late last year and findings unfavourable to Elmie and Macquarie Bank were made in a draft report prepared for ACMA members to consider.

And in what ACMA described as “following the requirements of natural justice”, a copy of the draft report was given to Elmie’s legal representatives.

Reports circulated last week that Mr Simson was endeavouring to sell his stations and although he refused to comment, he did say he had not seen the ACMA report. On Thursday, Prime TV announced it had bought 4EL Cairns and 4AA Mackay for an undisclosed sum.

This purchase is not conditional on media cross-ownership laws changing.

Prime does not broadcast in far north Queensland.

Janet Cameron’s Grant Broadcasters picked up 3CV in central Victoria and 3MA Mildura, to add to her existing Victorian holdings in Ballarat and Geelong.

She now controls 21 licences, making her the third largest regional operator in the nation, after MRR and Bill Caralis’s Superstation network of 32 signals in NSW and Queensland.
West Australian Newspapers bought 6EL Bunbury to add to its Red FM and Sprit FM holdings, which broadcast to regional Western Australia.

The sales end Mr Simson’s brief career as a media owner.

A former managing director of The Age and member of the Productivity Commission’s far-sighted 1999 broadcasting review, he resigned as chairman of advertising company Emitch to take on his radio ownership role.

He was bitterly critical of last year’s media reforms, saying their effects fell unfairly on regional radio.

Mr Simson denied the sales were related to the ACMA report.

“It was a commercially sensible thing to do and had nothing to do with ACMA,” he said.

He would not say if he had sold the stations at a profit or loss.

Source The Australian