Industry competition and journalism at stake in proposed giant media merger

Recently it has been confirmed that Australian and New Zealand media giants APN and Fairfax Media are in talks to merge, in a move that is subject to Commerce Commission approval.

The two media outlets produce many newspapers, magazines and radio stations throughout both countries, including Stuff, The Sunday Star Times, The Dominion Post, The Press, The New Zealand Herald and also NewstalkZB and Radio Sport among others.

A joint media statement out of Sydney, Australia last Wednesday confirmed that talks are well underway. Predictably, it highlighted the potential advantages of the move, claiming that, “If completed, the combined company will be a leading New Zealand media business, offering depth of news, sport and entertainment coverage across a diverse mix of channels including print, digital and radio.”

However, such a merger has been seen as dangerous by many, with some complaining that it would form a monopoly in the news industry, effectively drowning out the remaining few competitors left in the market. Others have voiced concerns about the effect it will have on the quality of journalism and the effect that will have on the New Zealand public as a whole.

One of those worried about both is political analyst Gordon Campbell, who says, “It will leave fewer journalists on the ground to do this work. The media will be able to offer only an inferior, more superficial service to the public, who will almost certainly have to pay more for their access for it. How on earth can the Commerce Commission approve a merger that will so blatantly reduce competition and so obviously disadvantage the public?” 

The Green Party also oppose the move, with their broadcasting spokesperson Gareth Hughes stating that “A free, diverse and competitive media is hugely important for democracy.”

He continued, lambasting New Zealand’s laws as weak in comparison to Australia’s parallel system: “Many other countries have specific rules that prevent media monopolies from forming, but New Zealand doesn’t. I think it’s unlikely these Australian-owned media companies would even dream of proposing a virtual monopoly over newspapers in their home country, under current rules there.

The merger is partly due to an ongoing and deepening global news crisis in which many news outlets are struggling to monetize their online content in the face of weakening sales of print media.

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2016.
Posted 10:40am Sunday 22nd May 2016 by Joe Higham.