Tuesday, 08 November 2016 13:02

Commerce Commission Tells Newspaper Chains to Re-Write Their Story

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Adjudicator wants new angle on proposed merger filed by March 2017 deadline

Just as everyone else including the proprietors themselves were giving up on newspapers the Commerce Commission has seized the print cause with a vigour and enthusiasm absent for many years now from the industry itself.

The Commission which arbitrates on New Zealand’s mergers and acquisitions from the competitive point of view has fastened upon newspaper diversity as their reason for vetoing the merger of the nation’s two newspaper publishing chains, the locally owned NZME and the Australian owned Fairfax.

As if mirroring the newspaper editorial quest for a new angle on something familiar, the Commerce Commission instead of fastening upon the mechanical aspect of the consolidation especially in regard to printing instead focused on the loss of editorial independence attendant upon such a merger.

Giving this point a big headline the Commission observed that such a single-owner concentration of publishing would put New Zealand only one place behind China with its single party ownership of the media.

The result of the first round of the merger application by the two chains has thus come as a surprise to the applicants.

The feeling had been that any objections to the fusion would be related to print production economies and thus the loss of jobs ensuing from the telescoping of the two chains comparatively numerous printing works.

One reason for this is that the two applicants in their joint submission outlined a surprisingly small joint saving from centralised mechanical production.

In effect the Commission in the manner of a stern but fair editor has told the two operators to come back to them. Next time with a better story. The deadline for filing is March next year.

The meaning of the Commission’s intent is in fact spelled out in its emphasis on what it describes as the need “for a well-established liberal democracy".

This it made clear was not attainable with “one organisation controlling nearly 90 per cent of the country's print media market.”

The Commission’s confidence in the economic future of print media will in a curious way re-invigorate the two supplicant chains as they seek to define a winning formula to compete with the free model in which social networks of one description or another have taken over the subscriber system once symbolised by print dailies.

It is obvious that neither of the chains foresaw the Commission adopting this editorial content diversity angle. The Commission in a curious way has revealed the emphasis that certain sectors of society still place on news as news.

From the MSCNewsWire reporters'desk  Tuesday 8 November 2016