The remorseless slide in print advertising and readership in Perth has helped the competition regulator green light the purchase of The Sunday Times from News Corp (and an associated website) by Seven West Media, which is the dominant media group in WA. The decision and the reasoning provided in today’s statement seems to clear the way for other media merger deals in Australia, especially in print. And possibly also in New Zealand, where the issues are similar: the slow death of print readership and advertising (and relevance). It is a recognition that print (newspapers and magazines) are on their last legs and that allowing them to merge and create monopolies is not going to be harmful to competition (whether it’s harmful to diversity of public opinion is a completely different question).
In a statement this morning the ACCC said it “will not oppose the proposed acquisition of The Sunday Times and perthnow.com.au from News Corporation by Seven West …
“The ACCC received a significant amount of feedback about diversity and quality of news from consumers in Western Australia. We also listened carefully to concerns raised by businesses who advertise in West Australian newspapers,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in this morning’s statement.
“Following an extensive review, the ACCC has reached the view that the proposed acquisition is, on balance, not likely to substantially lessen competition for either consumers or advertisers.”
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But the ACCC’s reasoning is also bad news for Seven West Media: it paints a picture of a major arm of the Stokes empire — West Australian newspapers — in virtual terminal decline, and that this deal will only postpone the inevitable. Back in 2011, Seven West Media was formed when Stokes’ Seven Network was merged with West Australian Newspapers (in which Stokes had a dominant minority holding). The merged company was valued at $4.1 billion — yesterday Seven West had a market value of $1.09 billion. — Glenn Dyer