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Turnbull backs Nine-Fairfax merger

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Regulators will look at the merger of Fairfax Media and the Nine Network but it is unlikely to face any hurdles, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

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The former journalist welcomed the merger of the two historic companies, but said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will examine it.

“I think bringing them together will strengthen both of them,” Turnbull told LAFM radio in Tasmania on Thursday.

“It will have to go through all the ACCC and all of those matters. But I understand the party’s expected not to face any regulatory hurdles.”

The deal was made possible due to media ownership law changes introduced in 2017, which now allow one company to own television, print and radio outlets in the same city.

“To be frank, I welcome the announcement,” Turnbull said.

“Fairfax is a great Australian company, newspaper company. The Nine Network, of course, is the first television station to be on air.”

The prime minister, who worked for the Nine Network as a journalist and a lawyer, said the two companies were in a “very tough and competitive” business environment.

“The arrival of all of the online news services has made the media so much more competitive than it used to be,” Turnbull said.

“I think bringing them together enables two strong Australian brands, with great, long – very long – traditions, to be able to be more secure.”

Fairfax also owns a significant number of regional newspapers due to a previous merger with Rural Press, including across South Australia, and Turnbull said he expected regional outlets not to be affected.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield was sending a similar message today, saying the deal looks to be in accord with the new media laws, which came in last year, aimed at ensuring Australian media businesses aren’t pushed out by international competitors.

“We can’t pretend we’re still in the 1980s. We can’t pretend the internet doesn’t exist,” Fifield told reporters in Melbourne.

However, the union representing journalists has called on the competition watchdog to block the deal.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance says the “takeover” is the inevitable result of the Federal Government’s “ill-conceived changes to media ownership laws” and will reduce media diversity.

“With ongoing inquiries into the independence and long-term viability of quality journalism under way, the ACCC must block this takeover,” MEAA media president Marcus Strom said in a statement.

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks and Fairfax boss Greg Hywood are confident the merger will proceed.

An ACCC spokesperson said the regulator expects to commence a public review of the proposed merger once it’s received submissions from Nine and Fairfax.

But Strom says the proposed deal threatens the editorial independence of newsrooms including at Nine, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and the Canberra Times.

“It harms the ability of an independent media to scrutinise and investigate the powerful, threatens the functioning of a healthy democracy (and) undermines the quality journalism that our communities rely on for information,” he said.

– with AAP

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