Battle of the billionaires: Forrest doubles down on Stokes ‘bias’ newspaper coverage claims

A bubbling feud between billionaires Andrew Forrest and Kerry Stokes has spilled out into a Fortescue Metals Group media briefing, with the mining magnate doubling down on claims the media mogul’s Seven West empire is peddling “salacious” articles amid a business row.

On Tuesday, Business News reported Forrest had told staff recent articles about Fortescue’s affairs published by The West Australian may have been a byproduct of the company’s June decision to partner with German equipment manufacturer Liebherr for the supply of 120 hydrogen-powered haul trucks.

WA billionaires Andrew Forrest and Kerry Stokes.Credit:Trevor Collens

The company is a direct competitor of Caterpillar dealer WesTrac, a heavy equipment supplier owned by Stokes’ private company Australian Capital Equity.

Stokes, 82, is best known for chairing ASX-listed Seven West Media, owner of The West Australian newspaper.

In an audio recording broadcast by Radio 6PR’s Gary Adshead on Wednesday, Forrest branded The West’s coverage “biased” and “inaccurate” and said it could well be driven by commercial interests.

And Forrest doubled down on those comments during a half-yearly meeting the same day, declining to respond to questions from a senior business reporter at The West over the “salacious” reporting and instead referring them on to Fortescue Future Industries boss Mark Hutchinson.

“Look I think you’re an excellent journalist, and they’re great questions, but I would really think carefully about not cooperating with your particular outlet,” he said.

“I don’t know if you’re under a lot of pressure or not, but we’ve had some really salacious misreporting, inaccurate, trying to put fear into the West Australian community [and] give the West Australian community a poor impression of this company.

“I’m particularly sensitive about answering questions from The West, we would normally not cooperate, but these are excellent questions.”

Forrest told the meeting he had put his foot down with WesTrac after it claimed it would not be able to bring pollution-free trucks online for almost another decade.

That put it at odds with the company’s commitment to decreasing emissions.

By inking the supply deal, Forrest said he had simply “called their bluff”.

“I made it really clear, if they don’t change that stance, [and] I don’t bluff, I will bring them [Liebherr] in,” he said.

Seven Group Holdings managing director Ryan Stokes, Kerry’s son, insisted there was no bad blood between the two companies, with the Australian Financial Review reporting that Stokes said FMG remained one of its most valued companies.

He also stressed that the editorial decisions of Seven West Media were entirely independent.

But it is not yet clear what the stoush means for the pair’s joint business venture.

It comes just weeks before the two billionaires are scheduled to buy the old East Perth Power Station from the state government, after Australian Capital Equity and Forrest’s investment vehicle Tattarang were selected as the preferred proponents on the riverfront redevelopment.

The lashing confirmed months of speculation about a feud between the billionaires and comes amid The West Australian’s coverage of Fortescue’s WorkSafe charges, a recent staff exodus, and the viability of ambitious plans of the miner’s green energy arm.

Last week, WorkSafe revealed it had charged Fortescue with 34 counts of failing to hand over documents related to alleged sexual harassment that occurred at its mine sites.

Fortescue initially said it was reluctant to comply with the watchdog’s demands because its priority was protecting the private details of staff, but has since agreed to supply redacted versions of the documents sought.

It also follows several media reports about job losses at the company and the number of high-level executive departures.

Seven West Media and The West Australian editor-in-chief Anthony De Ceglie both declined to comment.

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