Macquarie buys 40 Texas newspapers

| 1/26/2007

The Australian investment company that leased the Indiana Toll Road in 2006 is used to being in the headlines. It happens often.

And even though the headlines Macquarie made this week in Texas were not directly related to any toll road, critics of one of the company's recent business ventures are drawing a parallel.

Macquarie Media Group has purchased 40 community newspapers in Texas for $80 million, according to Editor and Publisher.

Critics worry that a control of media by companies that own toll roads may lead to a spin of information. Many of the small papers included in the purchase have been critical of the privatization of U.S. highways, according to the Bonham Journal, an affected newspaper that has been particularly critical of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

"The toll roads will be under control of foreign investors, which more than frustrates Texans," the newspaper reported in November 2006.

Truckers know the Macquarie company name from the toll-road subsidiary called Macquarie Infrastructure Group - which is part of an expanding web of investment groups spun by the parent company, Macquarie Bank.

The company arm that invests in media purchased the newspapers Wednesday from American Consolidated Media and its principal investor, Halyard Capital, according to the reports.

American Consolidated Media's group of 40 community newspapers was founded by Dallas Morning News President Jeremy L. Halbreich, who was quoted in Editor and Publisher as saying Macquarie was interested in "expanding the platform (it) already (has) in the local community papers segment."

The papers are mainly small, community papers averaging 5,000 in circulation.

Critics of the purchase and of the buyer say the deal could be an attempt to control information about privatized toll roads in small Texas communities.

The Lone Star State has a number of controversial proposals making their own headlines.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has his sights on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor consisting of a quarter-mile-wide swath of truck-only toll lanes, railway lines and multiple traffic lanes from the Mexican border to the Oklahoma state line.

Although Macquarie is not involved in that corridor proposal, its partner in the Indiana Toll Road lease is - Cintra Concessiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte S.A. of Spain.

Together, Cintra and Macquarie also operate the Chicago Skyway in Illinios and the 407 Express Toll Route in Ontario, Canada.

Macquarie Infrastructure Group operates the privately built South Bay Expressway in San Diego and the Dulles Greenway in Virginia near Washington, DC.

The acquisition of American newspapers was the first of its kind for Macquarie doing business in North America. Macquarie's media subsidiaries own several media companies around the world, including BBC Broadcast in the United Kingdom.

Parent company Macquarie Bank reported the purchase of American Consolidated Media to its shareholders this week, according to Editor and Publisher. Macquarie Bank is publicly traded on the Australian Stock Exchange.

- By David Tanner, staff writer