Toll Road firm alarms Texans with
Macquarie to buy
newspaper chain; critics fear it's
to silence Trans-Texas Corridor
January 31. 2007
Tribune Staff Writer
the foreign firms leasing the
Indiana Toll Road is drawing
suspicion from some Texans after
announcing plans to acquire a chain
of small newspapers there.
Australia-based Macquarie Media
Group last week said it will pay $80
million for American Consolidated
Media, which publishes 40 community
newspapers and shopping publications
serving nine communities in Texas
Macquarie's sister company,
Macquarie Infrastructure Group, last
year joined with the
Spanish conglomerate Cintra to lease the
Road for the next 75 years. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels
championed the deal, heralding the $3.8 billion in instant
revenue it brought the state, although 60 percent of Hoosiers
opposed it, according to opinion polls.
Likewise, several grass-roots groups in Texas are battling that
state's Republican governor, Rick Perry, and his plan to convert
existing freeways to toll roads and build a new toll road, the
Trans-Texas Corridor, that would stretch from the Mexican border
Cintra and Macquarie Infrastructure Group, which also jointly
operate a toll road in Toronto, are expected to be among many
groups bidding on about $250 billion in Texas road work and toll
road administration over the next decade.
Through eminent domain, the Trans-Texas Corridor, largely
paralleling the existing Interstate 35, would force people to
sell off their land for the project. Small papers in rural
communities along the route have aggressively reported on
opposition to that plan, said Sal Costello, founder of the
nonprofit political action committee, Texas Toll Party.
"It sure would make it a lot easier for their business if they
weren't being torn up in the newspapers every week," Costello
said of Macquarie.
The newspaper chain includes five dailies, 19 weeklies and 16
"shoppers," which are comprised entirely of ads.
"The big (Texas) newspapers have written about (public
opposition to the Trans-Texas Corridor), but the smaller
newspapers have really dug into it," Costello said. "By them
buying these papers in one fell swoop ... they'll be able to
suggest to writers that they not dig into it. It's editorial
independence we're talking about here."
Costello has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade
Commission, which still must approve the deal.
Costello said he recognizes how small the ACM newspapers are.
The largest has a circulation of just 7,000. But that does not
mean they have no influence, he said. Texas state legislators
listen to their rural constituents, and the small papers often
break stories that grab their larger counterparts' attention,
But Costello's fears are so misplaced that they barely merit a
response, said Jeremy Halbreich, ACM's founder, president and
chief executive officer.
Macquarie Media Group owns television and radio stations in
Australia, and a cable company in Taiwan. This would be its
first foray into print journalism.
Still, Halbreich said
Macquarie has enough media sense to
appreciate the value of credibility. They know that if current
ACM readers and advertisers think the papers have lost their
objectivity, the product quickly will lose its value for
shareholders, he said.
"We cover both sides of the issue and that's not going to
change," said Halbreich, former president and general manager of
the Dallas Morning News. "For these people to suggest that it's
going to happen tells me how naive they are about the newspaper
business and how it works."
Rusty Todd, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at
"That's a stretch," said Todd, who worked for the Wall Street
Journal and the Dow Jones News wires before entering academia.
"They're buying these newspapers because they'll make money with
them. Weeklies and small dailies still have got steady
circulation, and although they are small, they still have good
"There are other ways to build public opinion that are much
cheaper," Todd said. "They could just buy ads, hire lobbyists
and establish front groups that appear to be public interest
groups. That way you build public opinion and can then walk away
from it, and you're not stuck with a big investment."
Macquarie officials could not be reached for comment. But in a
news release, the company said it was attracted to the ACM
papers, and community newspapers in general, partly because they
That rationale should be a red flag for Hoosiers, said Steve
Bonney, a West Lafayette sustainable farming advocate who was
the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that unsuccessfully tried to
stop the Indiana Toll Road lease.
Cintra required "no-compete" language in the
lease, prohibiting the state from building new roads near the
Indiana Toll Road.
Bonney said the ACM deal is just more evidence that
pursuing investments with the highest-possible returns for
investors. That the Indiana Toll Road fit into that corporate
mission cannot be in the public's interest, he said.
Staff writer Jeff Parrott: