How cosy is “competition” in the Australian media in the aftermath of the government’s “reforms”? Extremely cosy, if a story in today’s Crikey is any guide.

The story goes like this. Fairfax and News Limited, the two elephants of Australian newspapers, have been bitter enemies for half a century since the fledgling Rupert Murdoch acquired Sydney’s Daily Mirror and launched a no-holds-barred battle against his then Fairfax rival The Sun. Since then it’s been full-scale war between the companies … until eight weeks ago, when News Corp bought 7.5% of its arch-rival Fairfax in a move smoochily described by Fairfax directors as “friendly”.

Today we reveal how friendly. Just before News bought its stake, Fairfax was set to launch an attack on News over claims the News-owned Melbourne Herald Sun had allegedly inflated its official Saturday circulation by as much as 150,000 copies, in clear breach of circulation rules. But once News became a “friendly” shareholder Fairfax had a change of heart. After all, you don’t do that sort of thing to “friends”.

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel has vowed to ensure the new media laws don’t reduce competition. As Fairfax sidles up to its major competitor and refuses to compete aggressively, it will be interesting to see whether the ACCC boss’s words line up with his actions. Or not.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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