Kate McClymont, Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker, Adele Ferguson
When Nine and Fairfax announced their merger, the impact on their journalism felt like an afterthought.
Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood said the deal was the “best outcome” for their journalism. Nine CEO Hugh Marks said he wouldn’t object to adopting the principles of Fairfax’s charter of editorial independence. But what Hywood and Marks wouldn’t comment on was whether the newsrooms would merge, how many jobs might be lost, and where costs might be cut from the news operations.
Incoming LaTrobe associate professor Andrea Carson that while the deal was predictable from a commercial perspective, it was concerning for media diversity and investigative journalism. “There are implications for the number of working journalists and diversity of news and that’s concerning,” she told Crikey.
Carson, who researches investigative journalism, said the joint investigations between Fairfax and the ABC had been at a global standard, and she’d be watching what happens to Fairfax’s investigations closely. “Fairfax and ABC have been leading the way in doing collaborations, and this merger will have implications for those,” Carson said.
A collaboration between Fairfax and the ABC’s Four Corners last year about the exploitation of nursing home residents won the Walkley Award for investigative journalism. In 2014, Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson won the Gold Walkley for her investigation into negligence by banks, published by Fairfax and in another Four Corners program.
“60 Minutes is pretty much the only vehicle for what you might generously call investigative journalism at Nine,” Carson said. “The Fairfax and ABC collaborations have been leading the way, and it’s hard to imagine those being on 60 Minutes. This merger is of concern for the future of investigative journalism.”
Carson also said the merger — which will reinstate a true rival to News Corp — would return Australia to a media duopoly. “Fairfax has been diminished and this will bring it back as a rival to News Corp,” she said. “We’ve already had a duopoly in the past, with great concentration of ownership.”
While Guardian Australia was likely to receive a bump from disenchanted Fairfax readers, other digital players wouldn’t be able to cover all topics in the same way as legacy media, Carson said.
And she said other concerns are cuts that the new company will make to its newsrooms, and any more mergers. “As history has shown us, once you trigger off one merger, it tends to prompt more. I think we’ll see more acquisitions and mergers,” Carson said.
The deal will need to be approved by shareholders and competition regulator ACCC, and MEAA (the journalists’ union) is calling on the latter to block the deal.
MEAA media president Marcus Strom said in a statement that the takeover of Fairfax threatened its editorial independence, as well as that of Nine.
“It harms the ability of an independent media to scrutinise and investigate the powerful, threatens the functioning of a healthy democracy, undermines the quality journalism that our communities rely on for information,” he said. “Nine and Fairfax must explain how they intend to defend the integrity of independent quality journalism in any combined entity.”
MEAA has also called for guarantees on existing conditions, entitlements and industrial agreements currently in place. “Any further cuts to editorial journalism at Nine and Fairfax would bite into the muscle, bone and soul of the newsroom,” Strom said.