The competition watchdog will not oppose News Corp Australia’s plan to buy APN’s regional newspaper division, which includes 12 daily papers and over 60 non-daily titles across Queensland and northern NSW.
The $36.6 purchase of APN’s Australian Regional Media (ARM) represents one of the largest print media consolidations since News Corp purchased Melbourne-based Herald & Weekly Times in 1986.
News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller welcomed the decision, saying: “ARM’s publications have a long and proud history of serving their communities in Queensland and NSW – they share many of the same values which News cherishes.
“As a former CEO of APN, I know these businesses and these teams well and appreciate the significant value they will bring to our company. I look forward to what we can achieve together by combining our collective expertise.”
More than 600 small businesses and agencies that advertise in News Corp and ARM titles were contacted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as part of its decision-making process.
Feedback from readers raised few concerns and suggested there was not close competition between the paid daily Queensland papers published by News and ARM, said ACCC chairman Rod Sims.
ARM’s paid daily regional newspapers focused on regional and local news and had limited overlap with News Corp’s metro daily Courier Mail.
Mr Sim said: “Readers are increasingly reading online sources of news, where there are alternatives to News and ARM.”
Readers who valued a community newspaper format were likely to face reduced choice in areas where News Corp and ARM’s masthead overlapped, the ACCC said.
The areas included Caboolture/Bribie Island, south west Brisbane, Brisbane northern bayside, Logan, Tweed Heads, and the southern Gold Coast.
“The ACCC concluded that, overall, a sufficient range of local news choices and advertising options would remain available in these areas, with Fairfax and independent local newspapers in some local areas, competing online options, as well as local radio news,” Mr Sims said.
“Although some concerns were raised by small businesses and ad agencies in these local areas, most acknowledged that print advertising was of declining importance and identified other advertising options if News attempted to increase rates.”
News Corp has not disclosed whether it plans to merge or maintain mastheads in these regions.
The prospective transaction will allow News Corp Australia to reduce existing combined costs in production.
APN said it wanted to offload its news media division so that the company could focus on its outdoor and radio businesses. It has already demerged itself from its New Zealand assets, NZME, which is awaiting watchdog approval for a proposed merger with Fairfax NZ.
NewsMediaWorks chief executive Mark Hollands said the ACCC decision was sensible and pragmatic.
“APN’s newspapers and digital assets now have an owner that believes in them and their future. News Corp wears on its sleeve its belief in the future and the importance of newspapers not only to its own business and industry, but to society as a whole,” he said.
“The outcome of this decision will not be business as usual, of course. Efficiencies will be made by leveraging News Corp assets, such as Queensland Newspapers’ commercial infrastructure. This is essential. Operating costs need to focus on producing great journalism and newspapers for readers, and creating engaged and responsive audiences for advertisers. Costs outside of those core purposes will be reviewed and minimised to ensure a commercial future. That means the towns of Queensland and northern NSW will continue to have their local newspapers, and all the community benefits they bring.”
“I hope that across the Ditch, the NZ Competition Commission accepts the similar arguments that are being made by NZME and Fairfax NZ.”
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