Yesterday Fairfax Media and Nine Entertainment announced that they will merge, forming a media organisation worth $4.2 billion.
The new organisation will be known as Nine.
This merger has only been able to occur due to the recent media market liberalisation by the Coalition Government in abolishing the two-out-of-three rule. Which prevented a media organisation from owning local newspapers, television stations and radio stations in a single city.
This reform was strongly opposed by many on the left, as well as Labor and the Greens.
When the rule came into place, then Treasurer Paul Keating famously said media organisations could be princes of print and queens of the screen, but not both.
Without long advocated media reform. Fairfax would have been left languishing, unable to expand its business into other areas of the media.
With the explosion of Google, Facebook, Netflix and other globally competitive organisations that have given consumers a digestible way to consume their media, to argue anything other than market liberalisation of the media now looks petulant and backward.
Fairfax’s news arm is clearly in need of a restructure. Domain contributes over a third of Fairfax’s total earnings. Nine CEO Hugh Marks has admitted that Stan and Domain, not the news section, was the primary motivator for the merger.
Fairfax mastheads have been subject to what seems like yearly cuts and staff restructure, resulting in strikes by the media union, and the inevitable complaints about a lack of media diversity.
News of the merger triggered the same tired argument by many on the left about the lack of political “media diversity”. The Canberra Press Gallery already leans to the left. Many journalists and writers at the NewsCorp daily’s and The Australian lean to the left, even though its political offerings tend to be centre right. Have you ever seen a conservative or classical liberal opinion piece at The Guardian recently? Of course not.
The merger also triggered claims about the merger being a threat to democracy. Last time I checked democracy was about an individual’s choice and freedom. If declining revenues are anything to go by, Australians are voting with their feet.
There has never been more media proliferation and diversity as there is today, to argue anything otherwise is rubbish. If you are in the market for a one-sided clickbait site that openly leans left, there are multiple news outlets for you.
There was no better example of media introspection after the recent passing of a motion to privatise the ABC at Liberal Party Federal Council, it became one of the most talked about national political issues. To its credit, the Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by NSW Young Liberal President Harry Stutchbury about why the ABC should be privatised. It should be assumed that the majority of SMH readers would not agree, but Guardian journalist Amanda Meade was quick to point out that Mr Stutchbury’s piece was somehow a sign of a lurch to the right for the masthead.
How ridiculous, that a newspaper would publish an opposing view of a policy debate of national significance is criticised, it is not a sign of a lurch to the right, but the right thing to do. The Guardian is a private media organisation; it is within its right to have a singular green left wing view on all public policy issues. However, speculating and lecturing other media organisations for having viewpoint diversity shows how far from balanced they are.
The elephant in the room on the declining news revenues of Fairfax, that none of its writers want to talk about is the ABC. It is a $1.1 billion behemoth that provides exactly the same viewpoint and opinion as Fairfax, subsidised by the taxpayer.
With the exception of the Australian Financial Review, they have never quite got their head around it. Why would a left-wing consumer of news pay for a leaning of journalism they can quite easily get for free over at the ABC?
Ultimately, enabling media organisations to scale to meet the needs of consumers is the right thing to do. Noise over at the media union calling for the ACCC to block this merger has direct equivalence to the taxi industry calling for Uber to be banned. The future is here, consumers are digesting all sorts of products, including media, in a way that is most accessible to them. Learn to deal with it to adapt.
Evan Mulholland is Media and Communications Manager at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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