The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has unveiled a surprise redrafting of its guidelines on media deals. The draft, which marks the first time the guidelines have been touched since 2006, for the first time make mention of the impact on media diversity.
The changes come as the federal government considers changing the media ownership rules, along with the potentially competition-reducing moves by Seven West Media Media to acquire News Corp’s Perth assets.
The commission is calling for comment by October 14. Media companies seeking to bulk up to meet the pressures from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google and other social media platforms will no doubt be critical.
The draft paper says the commission’s general approach to its merger assessment “is not sector specific”. But it points out that features of the media industry “give rise to some particular issues”. Those issues and their relevance to ACCC media merger reviews are explained in the revised guidelines and include a reduction in the number of media rivals and the potential impact on media diversity.
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“While the guidelines cannot provide an indication as to whether a particular merger might or might not be cleared by the ACCC, they do seek to give parties contemplating a media merger, and those potentially affected by a media merger, a greater awareness of some of the key issues the ACCC may focus on,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.
“It is not possible to indicate in advance what the outcomes of any proposed merger might be, as each case will turn on its unique set of facts,” the commission said. “The ultimate test however will remain the same: whether a merger is likely to substantially lessen competition in any market in Australia.”
For media proprietors, the message seems to be that they shouldn’t get their hopes up. There’ll be no automatic green lights.