Concerns as Fairfax, Nine merger nears

Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia. Photo: Peter Braig
Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia. Photo: Peter Braig

After more than 175 years of operation, the Fairfax Media name will be laid to rest next month when the company officially becomes one with Nine.

The competition watchdog has ruled the $4 billion merger can go ahead, after examining more than 1000 submissions, along with documents it had demanded from Fairfax and Nine Entertainment.

But former prime minister Paul Keating has described the green light as a "truly appalling decision", while the media union says it is a blow to media diversity.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has found the move will likely reduce competition in the nation's news content market - but not enough to break the law.

The number of major media players will fall from five to four, ACCC chair Rod Sims said on Thursday, admitting that would "exacerbate the problem" of media ownership concentration in Australia.

But he said new players such as Buzzfeed and The Guardian have been entering the market and will help counterbalance that loss.

"If you talk to people about how they get their news now, it's from a wider range of sources than we have ever had before," Mr Sims told reporters in Melbourne.

Mr Sims said it is "just unclear" how Fairfax will look after it combines with Nine, taking on the latter's name.

But former Labor prime minister Mr Keating is certain things aren't heading in a good direction, accusing the ACCC of consigning key Fairfax mastheads to the "ethical dustbin of Channel Nine".

"This will poison quality journalism; but more than that, remove chunks of local specific political issues, normally covered by newspapers, from the political debate," he said in a statement.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance is also concerned the ACCC's approval will reduce coverage of matters of national interest.

Fairfax head Greg Hywood told staff soon after the approval that it would allow the merger to be officially completed by December 10.

Nine has put the date a touch earlier at December 7, but both deadlines depend on the merger being approved by Fairfax shareholders at a November 19 meeting and the courts on November 27.

"The directors of Fairfax unanimously recommend that Fairfax shareholders vote in favour of the scheme, in the absence of a superior proposal," Nine said in a statement.

The merger comes after media ownership laws were changed in October 2017, allowing a proprietor to control more than two-out-of-three platforms - TV, radio or newspaper - in one licensed market.

After Nine and Fairfax proposed the step in July, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the law changes had been necessary to give media organisations the best chance of survival.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he was worried about the journalism jobs that may be lost as a result of the ACCC's decision, noting the country doesn't need less media ownership.

"I am extremely skeptical of the merits of that decision," he told reporters in Perth.

Australian Associated Press