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Fairfax appoints Jack Cowin to board


Mining billionaire Gina Rinehart's battle over board seats at Fairfax Media is expected to continue despite the appointment of her close ally Jack Cowin as an independent director.

The troubled media group on Thursday appointed the Hungry Jack's entrepreneur to its board, but insisted the move was unconnected to the Rinehart push for directors' seats.

"Neither Mr Cowin or Fairfax Media consider his appointment as being indicative or connected to the potential outcomes of the company's inconclusive discussions with Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd," chairman Roger Corbett said in a statement.

Mrs Rinehart began pushing for three board seats at Fairfax after her mining company, Hancock Prospecting, became the media group's biggest shareholder.

She had wanted two seats for Hancock representatives and another for an independent director, but her demands were rejected by Mr Corbett.

Morningstar analyst Tim Montague-Jones said Mr Cowin would be viewed as Mrs Rinehart's man on the Fairfax board.

"It's a win for Gina Rinehart - it's what she wanted," he said.

But Mr Montague-Jones said Mrs Rinehart was likely to push for more board seats, including one for herself.

He said the appointment of Mr Cowin was "the middle ground" chosen by Fairfax.

"I'm sure Fairfax will now like to lay low. I think the issue will now be on Gina's side: what will she do next?" Mr Montague-Jones said.

He said Mrs Rinehart may seek election to the Fairfax board at the company's next annual general meeting.

Mr Cowin founded and chairs Competitive Foods Australia, which owns the Hungry Jack's fast food chain.

Mr Corbett said talks with Mr Cowin over recent months had made it clear that he would add considerable value to Fairfax, which owns The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.

"He has been a long-term investor in the media, and we welcome his great media experience, independence of thought and insights," Mr Corbett said.

Mr Cowin was not immediately available to comment because he was travelling overseas.

Mr Cowin, who also sits on the Ten Network's board, is a close friend of Mrs Rinehart.

He described himself as the "Henry Kissinger of shuttle diplomacy", having acted as a go-between for Mrs Rinehart and Mr Corbett in recent months.

The main sticking points to Mrs Rinehart joining the Fairfax board revolved around an editorial independence charter and insurance issues relating to directors.

Mr Montague-Jones said Mr Cowin's entrepreneurial and media experience would be good for the board.

But he was surprised that Fairfax had not asked Mr Cowin to renounce his board seat at Ten.

He said Fairfax and Ten were potential competitors in the digital media space, and noted that Ten was chaired by Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch. Fairfax competes with News Corp in Australia.

Fairfax house committee chairman and business journalist Stuart Washington welcomed Mr Cowin's appointment because the businessman had agreed to the board's charter of editorial independence.

Fairfax shares closed flat at 56.5 cents.