Despite being widely expected, the ACCC’s approval of the Nine-Fairfax merger yesterday has drawn some very harsh criticism from multiple angles.
In a statement issued online yesterday, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) – which urged the ACCC to block Nine’s takeover of Fairfax from the very beginning, said the competition watchdog’s decision was a “body blow to media diversity”.
The MEAA also said the ACCC’s green-lighting was “the forerunner to future mega-deals that will reduce coverage of matters of public and national interest and do untold harm to media jobs”.
“Despite the ACCC’s tough talk about protecting competition and assuring the community that the merger would not simply be waved through, the commission has ignored the concerns raised by MEAA and hundreds of Fairfax and Nine readers and viewers,” it said.
“The merger has been approved without any conditions being attached about editorial independence, protection of jobs or employment conditions, or continued operation of existing mastheads.
“The ACCC found that the merger ‘will likely reduce competition’, but not substantially lessen competition in any market. MEAA does not accept the ACCC’s view that the growth in online news by smaller media companies ‘now provide some degree of competitive constraint’.”
The MEAA said none of the new entrants to the Australian media market have the capacity to conduct journalism at the scale of Nine, Fairfax, ABC, News Corp or Seven West Media.
“Despite the ACCC recognising this, it has chosen not to place any conditions on the merger.”
Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Paul Keating – who said Nine had “the ethics of an alley cat” when the proposed merger was announced – described the ACCC’s decision as “truly appalling” and one that will “poison quality journalism”.
“What the ACCC has done today is effectively skewer major source media diversity in Australia,” he said in a statement.
“A low-rent, news organisation, Channel Nine, will have editorial command of the major print mastheads in the country.
“This will poison quality journalism; but more than that, remove chunks of local specific political issues, normally covered by newspapers, from the political debate.”
Meanwhile, Labor Party leader Bill Shorten condemned the ACCC’s decision to give the Nine-Fairfax merger the green light.
Speaking at a press conference, Shorten said he was “extremely sceptical” of the decision and claims the move will only promote job loss and a homogenised media landscape.
“I am extremely sceptical about the merits of that decision. I’m concerned about jobs which might be lost for working journalists,” he said.
“But I also just want to make this point: condensing media ownership in Australia is not healthy.
“The argument that the Twittersphere and social media compensate for greater concentration of our newspapers and TV stations I don’t accept.
“I appreciate traditional forms of media are under more attack and competition than ever before in the digital age, from social media and a whole lot of different sources, but major newspapers and free-to-air TV still set the news of this country.”
“I am concerned with greater concentration of media ownership in this country; that we will see less competition, more job losses.
“Our newspapers and mastheads in our capital cities are tremendously important in setting the information to the nation, they are still one for the preeminent forms of media and I remain sceptical.
“Very influential parts of our media doesn’t lead to greater competition; it leads to less diversity.”
The competition watchdog began reviewing the deal – which sees Nine shareholders own 51.1 per cent of the combined entity, and Fairfax shareholders own the remaining 48.9 per cent – on 16 August, inviting interested parties to make their thoughts known until 7 September.
Subject to a positive shareholder vote (and subsequent court approval), the merger will be completed on Friday 7 December, with the first day of business as a combined group on Monday 10 December.