The dying appetite for print newspapers among consumers won the day for News Corp in its bid to buy the regional dailies and weekly papers of APN News and Media (of which it owns 14.9%) for $36.6 million, to give the Murdoch clan’s company a monopoly on print news in Queensland. In a decision today, the competition regulator, the ACCC, went directly against its NZ counterpart in approving the News Corp purchase.

Without being too obvious, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission invoked the charity or mercy rule in clearing the purchase of APN’s Australian Regional Media (ARM). Commission chair Rod Sims said in the statement:

“Declining readership and reduced advertising revenues for hard-copy publications were important factors in the ACCC’s assessment, as it was with the investigation of Seven West Media’s acquisition of The Sunday Times. Advertisers and readers are increasingly turning to other sources of news and advertising opportunities, particularly digital, which is having a significant impact on the print industry.”

In other words, newspapers are losing readers and sales (and advertising) and approving this deal won’t change that, even in Queensland. The grim reality is that newspapers are past their use by date and a dying industry.

The commission said it had invited feedback from readers and advertisers after releasing a statement of issues in October. The focus was on how ARM’s paid regional newspapers and News’ Courier-Mail compete for readers, and the extent of competition between overlapping News and ARM community newspapers in south-east Queensland.

The commission concluded readers and news consumers don’t give a fig because they know they can get their news elsewhere — online, from the Seven Network, from the Nine and Ten Networks, from the ABC in TV and Radio and also from some commercial news outlets (one of which is controlled by Lachlan Murdoch).

This deal though is another reason for the opposition and the crossbenchers in the Senate to block the proposed watering down of the “voices” section of media laws proposed by the Turnbull government. News Corp is the dominant print group, Lachlan Murdoch (a controller of News) owns a radio network, News Corp controls 14.9% of the Ten network through its half interest and management control of Foxtel, and News Corp owns the dominant pay TV news provider, Sky News. So there is no need to change the “voice” regulations — News Corp has driven a hole through them, with the assistance of the ACCC. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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